A new Data for Progress study bolsters warnings that President Donald Trump’s judicial appointees are way further to the right politically than those nominated by past Republican presidents—yet Democrats in the Senate are approaching such appointments “as business as usual,” and infuriating progressive critics who call on them to “recognize the crisis.”
“This analysis reveals how dangerously far to the right Trump has moved the federal courts in almost no time at all.”
—Brian Fallon, Demand Justice
Data for Progress, as co-founder Jon Green outlined Thursday, analyzed data—compiled by political scientists Maya Sen of Harvard and Adam Bonica of Stanford—going back to the Nixon administration for district courts and courts of appeals appointees.
For those who hadn’t donated to campaigns, researchers examined other available information, such as “age, race, employment history, party of appointing president, and ideologies of home state senators, and the judiciary committee chair who oversaw their confirmation.”
The think tank found that “Trump’s appointments stand out as being conservative, white, and male relative to his predecessors’—though they do not seem to be significantly younger than the appointments made by earlier presidents. Over 90 percent of Trump’s appointments so far have been white and three quarters have been men, combining for over 70 percent who are both white and male.”
“Overall, these data support the notion that Donald Trump is delivering for conservative activists through his judicial appointments, installing reliably Republican judges where he can,” Green wrote. “Moreover, they also show that in contrast to his slow pace in staffing some executive agencies, Trump has appointed judges at rates similar to his predecessors.”
As Brian Fallon, the executive director of the advocacy group Demand Justice, which commissioned the study, told Vox in a statement, “This analysis reveals how dangerously far to the right Trump has moved the federal courts in almost no time at all.”
“Democrats in the Senate have been too slow to recognize the crisis that is underway, and continue to support many of these nominees as if they are within the mainstream ideologically,” Fallon charged. “These are not normal nominees, and Democrats can’t continue to treat this situation as business as usual.”
Democratic leaders have garnered intense criticism for helping Trump make good on his campaign promise to flood the federal court system with conservatives like Kyle Duncan—”a darling of right-wing social crusaders” whose appointment to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was approved by the Senate last April.
In October, after the hotly contested confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court despite multiple credible allegations of sexual assault, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was sharply condemned for fast-tracking more than a dozen Trump appointees.
The GOP-controlled Senate is slated to consider dozens more judicial appointees in the coming months. The Data for Progress study follows a White House announcement on Tuesday that Trump plans to renominate 50 judicial appointees whose nominations weren’t addressed during the last congressional session.
Responding to the news, Demand Justice’s chief counsel Christopher Kang vowed that progressives will challenge the appointments. He told CNN: “Kavanaugh’s confirmation awakened progressives to the importance of our courts. Our courts will have the final word on many of Trump’s policies and will be his most lasting legacy—now we’re starting to fight like it.”
However, as Green warned, “with Republicans gaining two seats in the Senate, it is unlikely that Trump will moderate his appointment pattern over the next two years—and it is likely that Trump highlights his record of judicial appointments when rallying his base for re-election.”