By Ken Blackwell, LE Action Board Member
While viral videos may capture attention, they do not paint an accurate picture of those whom the president has chosen for the federal bench. President Donald Trump’s nominees to the federal judiciary are among the most qualified in recent memory.
For comparison, take the nominees to the circuit courts of appeal. As a rule, they are expertly credentialed, with a full 75 percent having apprenticed on federal appellate courts themselves (twice the rate of President Barack Obama’s first 24 appellate nominees).
Forty-two percent clerked at the Supreme Court of the United States—the young appellate lawyer’s ultimate brass ring. President Trump’s appellate nominees served at the Supreme Court at over three times the rate of Obama’s nominees.
Their accomplishments did not end with their clerkships. Five of President Trump’s first circuit nominees were professors at law schools. Indiana’s Amy Coney Barrett, Colorado’s Allison Eid, Michigan’s Joan Larsen, and Minnesota’s David Stras all taught and wrote as respected law professors before their appointments to federal appeals courts.
Pennsylvania’s Stephanos Bibas was ranked as the fifth-most-cited criminal law professor in the United States prior to his judicial appointment. Eleven of President Trump’s circuit nominees came from the benches of other courts, several from the highest court in their states and others from federal trial courts.
Illinois’s Amy St. Eve, Kentucky’s Amul Thapar, Louisiana’s Kurt Engelhardt, and North Dakota’s Ralph Erickson all served for years as district judges in their respective circuits.
Several were accomplished appellate advocates, having practiced at the highest levels, including 15 who practiced or argued before the Supreme Court. Louisiana’s Kyle Duncan and Alabama’s Kevin Newsom are among that group.
But despite rewarding incredible academic and career accomplishments in his nominees, President Trump has largely eschewed the sons and daughters of privilege.
Take, for example, Judge Bibas, now serving on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. Bibas grew up bussing tables at restaurants run by his father, who hid from the Nazis on a Greek island during World War II and emigrated to the United States in 1959.
Or, take Texas Judge Jim Ho, who was born in Taiwan, came to the States as a young boy, and first learned English from Sesame Street. Judge Ho’s colleague Don Willett was raised in a trailer by a single mother, a truck stop waitress in Talty, Texas.
Kentucky nominee John Nalbandian was born to a Japanese-American mother who was herself born in a World War II internment camp in Gila, Arizona. Minnesota Judge David Stras is the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana is a mother to seven children, two adopted from Haiti and one with special needs; she became a tenured professor and noted scholar at Notre Dame Law School, winning numerous teaching awards.
With such a group, Senate confirmation should not be difficult. But by any reckoning, Senate Democrats have launched an unprecedented campaign to block, impede and obstruct President Trump’s judicial nominees, no matter their legal and personal accomplishments.
Just compare the stats with President Obama’s first 24 appellate nominees, who were also put forward when the same party controlled the White House and the Senate. Trump nominees averaged a 13-to-8 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Obama nominees averaged a 17-to-2 vote.
On the Senate floor, Trump nominees won confirmation by an average of 59 votes to 39, while Obama nominees averaged 89 votes to seven.
Republicans attempted to block (via filibuster) confirmation votes on only two of Obama’s first nominees, whereas Democrats today have filibustered every single one of the 14 Trump nominees brought up for confirmation.
The numbers are stark. In short, when Republicans were in the minority, they were more willing to support President Obama’s less-qualified nominees than Senate Democrats are today.
As exemplified by these individuals, President Trump’s nominations show his drive to pick judges of impeccable accomplishment. It’s a shame that Democrats won’t get on board.