It’s been almost three years since Donald Trump put any new judges on our federal courts. But the 234 judges he and Senate Republicans rushed onto the federal bench will remain there for life. They will continue to try to frustrate good policies by the Biden Administration and others and cause serious harm to all of our rights. Even putting aside the damage done by Trump’s three Supreme Court justices, Trump lower court judges pose significant dangers to all of us. Let’s take a look at some of what Trump lower court judges have done and what we can do about it.
Exhibit A is Matthew Kacsmaryk.
Kacsmaryk is a far-right Texas federal district court judge nominated by Trump after working for an ultraconservative legal group. He is best known for a decision that effectively banned the abortion pill mifepristone, even though the pill was approved decades ago by the FDA and has helped literally millions of people. Fortunately, the Supreme Court stayed his ruling, and the case is going forward—although a panel composed mainly of right-wing Trump judges is now considering the case on appeal.
The abortion pill case is just one of Kacsmaryk’s harmful decisions. He has literally “helped make Texas a legal graveyard” for a number of Biden Administration policies. This has included Kacsmaryk orders that have “forced the continuation of harsh Trump immigration policies, significantly limited access to federally funded birth control, and ruled that health care providers can discriminate against LGBTQ+ people despite federal anti-bias provisions.”
Kacsmaryk isn’t alone.
Kacsmaryk is only one of many Trump lower court judges who are continually harming our rights across the country. For example:
- Terry Doughty, appointed by Trump as a district court judge in Louisiana, issued a nationwide injunction in 2021 that stopped a Biden initiative to suspend new oil and gas leases on federal land. Experts decried the move as “deeply dangerous” because it will make fossil fuel pollution much worse by continuing unabated new leases and drilling on federal land. The injunction lasted for more than a year, and Doughty has continued to issue harmful orders in the case after that. Doughty also issued a nationwide block on a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers and stopped vaccine and mask rules designed to protect vulnerable Head Start children and families in 23 states.
- Chad Readler, a former Trump DOJ official appointed by Trump to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, has consistently voted against holding police officers accountable for brutality and misconduct. This includes one case where he reversed a lower court and stopped a lawsuit against an officer who punched and tasered a man without probable causse. Readler has also written or cast key votes for rulings that severely limited voting rights, stopped consumers from getting relief from corporations that injured them, and dismissed racial and other discrimination and harassment claims.
- Britt Grant, appointed by Trump to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote a decision that struck down local laws that protected LGBTQ+ youth from dangerous “conversion therapy,” which is alleged treatment that tries to “change, suppress, or divert” the sexual orientation of LGBTQ+ youth. Grant has also written or cast key votes for decisions that dismissed a case trying to defend a Birmingham minimum wage law and excused a school board’s failure to provide special education services to a student with disabilities.
Grant also vacated an injunction that prevented the isolation of women in “horrific and repulsive conditions” in a county jail and “drop[ped] an anvil” on the scale of justice to make it much harder for workers in the Eleventh Circuit (Alabama, Georgia, and Florida) to prove job discrimination claims.
So what should we do?
The most important action we can take is to push the Biden Administration to nominate and the Senate to promptly confirm as many lower court federal judges as possible to help balance the courts. Biden and the Senate have already placed 136 fair-minded judges on our federal courts, a very good start. But there are 89 federal judicial vacancies still waiting to be filled,, including 25 people already nominated and waiting for confirmation. We have already seen important positive results from Biden judges, including overruling harmful decisions by Trump judges. Filling the remaining lower court vacancies during Biden’s current term as president will come close to balancing out the number of Trump judges on the bench.
So urge your Senators to move promptly to confirm the 25 federal judicial nominees waiting for confirmation. Push the White House to promptly nominate people to fill the 64 vacancies with no nominees and the Senate to process them without delay, even if this requires modification of the so-called “blue slip” rule under which home-state Senators can indefinitely delay such processing. (Take part in this PFAW action on blue slips.) And urge the Senate to continue to explore ways to limit the damage that individual Trump judges can do through nationwide injunctions that go far beyond their districts.
With these steps, we can mitigate the harm that Trump judges continue to cause to all of our rights and liberties.