UPDATE: In keeping with Senate rules, all nominees awaiting votes in the Senate at the end of the last session were returned to the White House for re-nomination. Once re-nominated, nominees must go before the Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings. We wlil update our Call to Action once the committee schedules those hearings.
One of the most important and lasting actions Trump will take as president is appointing extremists to LIFETIME appointments on the federal bench. Floor votes are IMMINENT for anti-abortion nominee Wendy Vitter, and anti-LGBTQ nominees Matthew Kacsmaryk and Howard Neilson. Call Collins and King and tell them to voice their opposition to Wendy Vitter and the other extremist nominees facing imminent confirmation votes.
Trump’s plan to appoint ultra-conservative, extremist judges to lifetime positions in the federal court system is a weapon that will continue to harm Americans long after he is out of office. Trump inherited 100 judicial vacancies and is expected to get many more as current judges retire, and he is methodically filling these vacancies with the most conservative and least diverse group of candidates seen since Reagan held office. Judges confirmed by the Senate in the past year are already having a chilling effect on civil rights issues. While many vacancies have already been filled, there is still time to stop others that should be disqualified from judicial service. Find a full list of federal judicial nominees and their status in the Senate on the Senate Judiciary Committee website and find more background on the nominees below and others at Vetting Room. Suit Up Maine tracks the most concerning judicial nominees in partnership with Indivisible East Bay in California, which maintains a Federal Judiciary Tracker. The worst of the worst are below and all are pending floor votes in the Senate. You can also see which of the nominees we’ve tracked have been confirmed or rejected.
NOMINEES WITH IMMINENT VOTES
- WENDY VITTER: Nominated for the eastern district of Louisiana, Vitter has a long history of anti-abortion comments and speeches, all of which she omitted from her Senate Judiciary Questionnaire that all nominees are required to complete. Her legal background includes serving as a prosecutor and Chief of Trials under former New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick Sr., whose office was found to consistently violate citizens’ Constitutional rights. Beginning in 1993, In Vitter took a 19-year break from her legal career to campaign for her husband, Republican David Vitter, during his career as state representative, US House Representative, and US Senator. She is now general counsel for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in New Orleans. She has been very active in the anti-abortion movement, and has promoted shockingly misleading and inaccurate information about both abortion and birth control. She participated in a panel where she encouraged women to read and distribute a brochure stating that “the pill kills,” which included outrageous and false claims that women who take birth control pills are more likely to cheat on their partners, and have fertility problems and/or unhealthy children. She also urged an audience to encourage doctors to distribute false information about abortion, which she lied about in her Judiciary Committee hearing. Vitter is also just shy of the 12 years of legal practice required by the American Bar Association to sit on the federal bench.
- MATTHEW KACSMARYK: Nominated to a federal judgeship for the Northern District of Texas, Matthew Kacsmaryk is known using “religious liberty” as a justification for discrimination against LGBTQ people and women. He currently works for the First Liberty Institute, a large legal organization exclusively devoted to these kinds of cases. He helped defend a Mississippi law that allows businesses and government workers to refuse service to LGBTQ individuals, and challenged the ACA’s contraception mandate. He has been a vocal opponent of Obama’s executive order prohibiting discriminating against LGBTQ individuals by government contractors, accusing it of “favoring sexual revolution fundamentalism over the sincerely-held religious beliefs of Americans,” and he has challenged Obama’s directive that schools accommodate students’ “gender identity” in gender-specific public facilities. His work and his writings make it clear that he will use his position in the federal courts to further religious justification for discrimination against LGBTQ people and women. Because of the level of Democrat opposition to his nomination, moderate republicans such as Collins will be key deciding votes.
- HOWARD NIELSON: Nominated to be federal judge for Utah, Nielson is an ideological extremist and political partisan. He is best known for his defense of “Prop 8,” the California ballot initiative that restricted marriage to heterosexual couples, and his unsuccessful attempt to force the presiding judge to recuse himself because he was gay. As part of the case, he argued that sexual orientation is a choice, and that it can be changed through therapy. Neilson argued to the Supreme Court that Texas should uphold restrictive regulations that would have shut down most abortion clinics, and represented the NRA’s efforts to overturn gun regulations. He also represented congressional Republicans in their opposition to EPA greenhouse gas regulations for industrial polluters. As a member of a DOJ intern screening committee, Nielson violated department rules by eliminating those identified as Democrats, leading the Inspector General to state that those involved should never again have positions in any federal agency. There is also evidence to suggest Nielson was involved in Stephen Bradbury’s “torture memos,” which John McCain described as permission to torture. Nielson has refused to disclose the nature of his involvement.
- PATRICK WYRICK: Nominated to be federal judge for the western district of Oklahoma, Wyrick is known for being closely tied to Scott Pruitt, enabling many of his unethical relationships to fossil fuel industry insiders and lobbyists as well as rollbacks of Oklahoma’s environmental regulations. Wyrick has only 9 years of judicial experience, short of the American Bar Association’s recommendation for federal judges. His career path is paved with an extreme, conservative stance in many controversial issues including restrictions of reproductive rights including access to Plan B and ultrasound requirements, challenging the ACA, defending Oklahoma’s anti-Muslim constitutional amendment, and defending the use of a controversial drug in death penalty cases. He was also notably criticized by Supreme Court justices for misrepresenting scientific evidence in oral arguments to the Court.
- Call Collins and King and demand that they oppose the nominations of all extremist, unqualified judicial nominees, including Farr, Vitter, Kacsmaryk, Nielson, and Wyrick and ask them to uphold the Blue Slip tradition.
- Help generate national pressure around these nominees by sharing this call to action with friends in other states.
- Are you a practicing or retired lawyer? If you are concerned about these appointments, there is an opportunity for leadership with an independent group of Maine lawyers. If you are willing to help, please contact Jackie Sartoris, Esq., at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOMINEES CONFIRMED OR REJECTED
- THOMAS FARR: Update 11/29: Republican senators Tim Scott (SC) and Jeff Flake (AZ) announced their intentions to oppose Farr, dooming his chances of confirmation. Collins released a statement indicating she would have confirmed him, King was opposed. Nominated for a district judgeship in the Eastern District of North Carolina, Farr is considered very qualified with almost 40 years of legal experience. This only makes him more concerning, however, as his legal work has not only been incredibly partisan, but has also been racially discriminatory. He is well-connected to the Republican Party, has provided legal representation to the party, and has been a generous donor to Republicans, several of whom are still members of Congress. His legal work has opposed Democratic gerrymandering but has supported Republican, racially discriminatory gerrymandering. He defended NC’s voter identification law, which the DOJ argued disenfranchised minority voters, arguing that voter ID was a “minor inconvenience.” He defended “election reform” measures that were also criticized as disenfranchising minority voters. He helped draft NC’s voter suppression law, and a newly released Department of Justice memo from 1991 shows that, contrary to his testimony, he was involved in “ballot security” activities while working for the campaign of Jesse Helms, which included a postcard campaign aimed at intimidating black voters.
- DAVID PORTER: Confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 11, 2018. Collins voted YES, King voted NO. Nominated to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, Porter is a partner at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is a graduate and trustee of Grove City College, a private religious college that has admitted to turning down federal financial aid to skirt Title IX-mandated civil rights protections for LGBTQ individuals. His only judicial experience is two years as a law clerk in the early 1990s. In 2014, he was rejected as a potential nominee for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania because of his extremist ideology. He has criticized Roe v. Wade as having a “shaky theoretical foundation;” opposes gay marriage, has argued against the minimum wage law, and has been a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act. He co-founded the Pennsylvania Judicial Network, an affiliate of the Koch brothers-funded Judicial Crisis Network, created in part to oppose the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayer. Porter’s nomination comes over the repeated objections of Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), who has not released his “blue slip” on Porter’s nomination. Although not a rule, Senate protocol has long held that judicial nominees aren’t advanced unless both of the nominee’s home state senators issue a blue slip—a blue form that signals approval of a nominee. Under the Obama administration, Grassley refused to advance the nomination of Rebecca Ross Haywood for the same court Porter hopes to join when the other Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey withhold his blue slip. Now that it’s a Republican president’s nominee, Grassley has decided to ignore the blue slip tradition. His nomination is opposed by the Alliance for Justice, the National Employment Lawyers Association, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the Leadership Conference of Human and Civil Rights.
- RYAN BOUNDS: Nomination withdrawn amid public outcry on July 20, 2018. Nominated to be a federal judge for the critical 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Bounds has been rejected by senators from his home state of Oregon, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Sen. Jeff Merley (D). Both senators refused to issue the traditional blue slips to the Senate Judiciary Committee, pieces of paper used to signal approval of a nominee. Traditionally, the refusal to return a blue slip from a nominee’s home-state senator effectively ended that nominee’s chances for confirmation. But Republicans in the Senate have chosen not to honor that tradition. Bounds would be the first nominee confirmed without a blue slip. Among the concerns raised by the Oregon senators and others is Bounds’ lengthy record of racial and bigoted slurs, writings, and actions while an undergraduate at Stanford University. He called activism by people of color and LGBTQ individuals as a “pestilence” that “stalks us” and criticized the university’s policy of identifying and expelling sexual assault offenders, writing “Expelling students is probably not going to contribute a great deal toward a rape victim’s recovery.” Bounds failed to disclose these and other controversial writings to the judiciary committee, drawing condemnation from Democrats. Like most of Trump’s nominees, Bounds is a member of the ultra-conservative Federalist Society, which advocates rulings that restrict reproductive rights, limit voting access, and overturn consumer and environmental protections.There are also concerns about Bounds’ ties to Republican Congressmen Greg Walden, whose chief of staff is Bounds’s sister.
- ANDREW OLDHAM: Confirmed by the Senate on July 18, 2018. Collins voted YES; King voted NO. Nominated to be federal judge for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Oldham is young, aggressively conservative, and has been involved in controversial litigation that emphasized ideology over the law. Oldham has worked on cases aimed at limiting reproductive rights, challenging the Affordable Care Act, challenging California’s law requiring good cause for concealed carry of firearms, and challenging habeas rights, all of which were ultimately unsuccessful. He defended Texas laws that limited women’s access to abortions that were ultimately determined by the Supreme Court to put “undue burden” on women’s right to choose. His challenge to the Affordable Care Act based on the “Origination Clause” of the Constitution was dismissed by the 5th Circuit for lack of standing. He attempted to barr the use of habeas corpus claims by two plaintiffs, but appeals courts allowed the claims. He also filed an amicus brief on behalf of multiple states (including Maine) using the Second Amendment to challenge a California law requiring good cause for concealed carry of firearms. The 9th Circuit ruled that the Second Amendment does not protect a right to concealed carry of firearms. Additionally, Oldham was involved in challenging the EPA’s greenhouse gas rules under the Clean Air Act, and he defended Texas campaign finance laws that were being challenged by multiple nonprofits and political committees under the First Amendment. His record of unsuccessful attempts to shape the law according to his own conservative ideology suggests that this bias is likely to accompany him to the federal bench.
- KYLE DUNCAN: Confirmed by the Senate on April 24, 2018. Collins voted YES; King voted NO. Nominated to the already conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Duncan is a particularly dangerous nominee because of his success rate in litigating within the Supreme and lower appellate courts, and his experience promoting conservative religious causes and fighting protections for reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights. Known most recently for representing the school board that refused transgender student Gavin Grimm’s request to use his school’s male restroom, he also defended a North Carolina House bill that essentially sanctioned government discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, and Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the ACA contraception mandate. Throughout his career, Duncan has also fought to make it more difficult for people of color to vote, for immigrant families to stay together, and for the juvenile justice system to be reformed. Duncan has indicated he will not respect precedent when he disagrees with the outcome of a case. After the Supreme Court decided in favor of same-sex marriage, Duncan said the case “raises a question about the legitimacy of the Court.” He is likely to continue to use his position in the judicial system to further his own ultra conservative views rather than to uphold the law.