Senate Republican leaders are poised to advance dozens of President Trump’s judicial nominations before the new US Congress convenes in January, despite an attempt from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to impede the process.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to advance six Circuit Court nominees on Thursday, but the committee canceled its meeting after Flake vowed to vote against judicial nominations unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) schedules a vote on bipartisan legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump.
While Flake’s tactic could slow down the nomination process, McConnell could still bring nominees directly to the floor. He has repeatedly stated the judiciary remains his top priority during the lame duck session.
Trump has already appointed a record-breaking number of federal judges, pushing more federal judges through the Senate than any recent president. Trump and congressional Republicans have packed federal courts with ultra-conservative judges, many of whom are opposed to abortion rights and are members of the far-right Federalist Society, a nationwide organization of conservative lawyers.
The Senate has confirmed 53 Trump nominees for federal district courts, most of whom replaced Democratic appointees. Trump has also filled 29 vacancies on federal appeals courts—the last stop before the US Supreme Court, thus reshaping the judicial landscape. As Republicans in more and more states pass anti-choice legislation, the makeup of federal courts could have a lasting effect on reproductive rights.
Here are some of the most vocal opponents of reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and voting rights set for confirmation of lifetime appointments to federal courts.
Wendy Vitter, US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana Nominee
Vitter is the general counsel for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and wife of former GOP Louisiana Sen. David Vitter. She has withheld information from the Senate Judiciary committee about her anti-choice record, publicly misrepresenting her background in a confirmation hearing, and failing to state whether the landmark cases Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade were correctly decided.
Vitter, in May 2013, gave a speech in protest of a new Planned Parenthood clinic in New Orleans, saying at the time, “Planned Parenthood says they promote women’s health. It is the saddest of ironies that they kill over 150,000 females a year.”
In November 2013 Vitter led a panel called “Abortion Hurts Women,” where she appeared to endorse a pamphlet featuring debunked claims linking birth control to breast and cervical cancer. That panel included Dr. Angela E. Lanfranchi, a breast cancer surgeon featured as one of Rewire.News’ “False Witnesses” for her dubious talking points on abortion care and breast cancer.
Jonathan Kobes, Eighth Circuit Nominee
Kobes serves as general counsel for US Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD). Kobes represented an anti-choice women’s health center in South Dakota, defending a state law requiring physicians to make deceptive statements to people seeking abortion care, including disproven claims about the risk of suicide. Kobes claimed that abortion terminates the life of a whole, separate human being, also known as fetal “personhood.” The American Bar Association rated Kobes as “not qualified” to serve as a federal appellate judge, the second of Trump’s nominees to the Eighth Circuit to receive such a rating.
Matthew Kacsmaryk, District Court of the Northern District of Texas Nominee
Kacsmaryk serves as deputy general counsel to the First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to religious liberty. Kacsmaryk has represented religiously affiliated institutions which oppose the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, advancing arguments that falsely equate certain methods of contraception to abortion. Kacsmaryk has disputed the legal foundation of Roe v. Wade, and has arguedthat the legal right to abortion has weakened the institution of marriage.
Michael Truncale, US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Nominee
Truncale is a Texas lawyer and a partisan conservative. In 2012, Truncale called for “defunding” Planned Parenthood and boasted about marching in an anti-choice rally. He has criticized former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, who undertook a 13-hour filibuster in 2013 to delay a vote on a GOP-backed anti-abortion bill.
In a 2016 article in the Golden Triangle Republican Woman Gazette, titled “The Reason to Vote for Trump,” Truncale wrote, “The liberal Supreme Court will also consider President Obama’s actions in rewriting laws like Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex—by redefining the word ‘sex’ to mean ‘gender identity’ or even a person’s ‘internal sense of gender,’” and that liberals want to “force Christian photographers to use their artistic skills to celebrate same-sex weddings.”
Brian Buescher, US District Judge for the District of Nebraska Nominee
Buescher is an attorney based in Omaha, Nebraska, with a track record of conservative activism and hostility toward reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights. In response to a 2014 questionnaire from the anti-choice organization Nebraska Right to Life, Buescher stated he believes abortion should be illegal in all instances except to prevent the death of the pregnant person.
In a 2014 voter guide video from the Nebraska Family Alliance, Buescher said, “When regulating abortion, my view is this, we should regulate abortion as much as we possibly can. I’m in favor of banning abortion.”
Thomas Farr, US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Nominee
Farr is a lawyer based in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a history of opposing voting rights, representing North Carolina against voting rights groups accusing the state of discrimination. North Carolina’s GOP-controlled legislature hired Farr in 2013 to defend a set of voting restrictions a federal appeals court ultimately struck down for targeting Black voters. The North Carolina legislature hired Farr to defend redistricting maps that have since been invalidated in court due to racial gerrymandering.
Flake voted against Farr’s confirmation Wednesday afternoon, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to break the 50-50 tie in the Senate. The next vote to advance Farr’s nomination was scheduled for Thursday, but has been moved to next week. GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Tom Scott (SC) were hesitant on Farr’s confirmation as of Thursday afternoon.