Perhaps the most important consequence of Donald Trump’s presidency has been the federal judiciary’s rightward lurch.
As of April 1, he’d appointed a record 39 far-right judges to lifetime posts on the Supreme Court and federal circuit courts — more than half the number of circuit court judges confirmed during Obama’s entire eight-year presidency.
In fewer than two years, Trump’s narrow-minded, elitist judges have issued rulings that are incredibly damaging to Americans’ constitutional and civil rights. They’ve stripped women’s access to reproductive rights and health care, diminished workers’ rights to defend themselves against discrimination, and criminalized immigrants and other vulnerable communities.
Take reproductive rights. Just last month, the four Trump judges on the Sixth Circuit appellate court cast the deciding votes to uphold Ohio’s law barring Planned Parenthood from receiving state funding for important health care because it provides abortions with non-state funds.
One Republican-appointed judge lamented in her dissent that the ruling allows a state like Ohio to “leverage its funding to launch a thinly veiled attack on women’s rights.”
How about the rights of workers to be free from discrimination?
In 2014, then-58 year-old Dale Kleber was rejected from a job because he had more experience than the “no more than 7 years” the company specified. He sued for age bias. And in January 2019, it was four Trump-appointed judges on the Seventh Circuit who cast the deciding votes that older job applicants can’t challenge discriminatory hiring practices because of their discriminatory impact.
Their ruling was despite strong dissents, including one by a conservative judge appointed by President Reagan. Another dissenting judge noted that the majority was “closing its eyes to 50 years of history” of federal anti-discrimination law.
Then there’s the Supreme Court.
Earlier this year, Trump-appointed Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding votes in a 5-4 decision ruling that immigrants who’ve been released after committing minor crimes — as petty as illegally downloading music — can be indefinitely detained even years after their release pending possible deportation hearings.
The ruling applies to immigrants who’ve been in this country legally for decades.
As Justice Breyer explained, the decision means people can be detained for years, even though they may well never be deported at all. Breyer concluded that the ruling “will work serious harm” — not only to many immigrants, but also “to the principles for which American law has long stood.”
These are just three of dozens of rulings written or joined by Trump-appointed judges over the last two years that have endangered our rights. And Trump judges have made clear in their dissents in cases where they didn’t prevail that they’d do even more harm to Americans’ rights given the chance.
The right’s strategy for years has been to do exactly that.
Since his earliest days as president, Trump has been aided and abetted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and extremist organizations like the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and the Judicial Crisis Network to fill the courts “with an army of conservative jurists.”
Why? Because they want a judiciary that protects corporations, the rich, and the powerful over the American people.
Well beyond his years in office, Trump’s judicial takeover will be among the most significant consequences of his presidency. Because these positions are lifetime, the rulings these judges have made — and will continue to make — dramatically shape our rights and daily lives.
Filling the country’s courts with far-right judges doesn’t just risk our liberties. It also risks a central tenet of our judiciary: impartiality.
Americans deserve judges who understand the impact the law has on all of us, and who value equality and justice for all. It’s time for us all to stand up and fight for fair-minded constitutionalists on our courts.
Elliot Mincberg is a senior fellow at People For the American Way and a former chief oversight counsel for the House Judiciary Committee.