August 10, 2017
In some respects, Republican president Donald Trump has accomplished a great deal in his first 200 days in office. He has alienated many foreign allies and has us staring down the barrel of a potential nuclear war. He signed 42 executive orders—almost twice as many as his predecessor, President Barack Obama. But in other cases he has done very little of consequence. Trump has signed a mere 44 bills in his first 200 days—less than any president in recent history with the exception of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan—and none of those laws has included his pet projects such as an Obamacare repeal or the go-ahead for actually building a wall between the United States and Mexico.
However, there is one area where Trump has had undeniable impact despite being inept in nearly every other branch of policy and diplomacy: He is stuffing our courts to the gills with far-right-conservative judges, and the results on our judicial system will be felt for decades to come.
Obviously, the biggest win for social conservatives in the 2016 election was their ability to keep the late Antonin Scalia’s seat vacant in the hopes of a surprise win in the presidential race and another Republican nominee for the Supreme Court. The gamble paid off: The GOP may now regret getting into bed with a treasonous, unstable, hot-headed, nuclear-trigger-happy Commander in Chief, but hey, at least they got the conservative, anti-abortion and LGBTQ Scalia replacement they’ve long been dreaming of in Neil Gorsuch. And if Justice Anthony Kennedy does retire, or worse yet, if one of the more elderly members of the liberal wing is lost due to health issues, then they could very well get one or even more bites from that apple. That situation would result in a reinterpretation of the U.S. Constitution that could change the rights of many Americans for generations to come.
But while the Supreme Court was obviously the icing on the cake when it came to the courts, the cake itself is just as troublesome.
Due to Republican obstructionism in the Senate, a large number of federal court positions had been left vacant during President Obama’s last term, and now the Trump administration has been rushing to fill those vacancies. According to Business Insider, as of July there were 136 empty spots, a small portion caused by Trump’s decision to fire half of the 93 U.S. attorneys shortly after entering office, but the rest still left over from the Obama administration. The vacancies run from district judges to the appeals courts to U.S. Attorneys, meaning he is making nominations at every level of the judiciary that will potentially effect every state in the country.
Meanwhile, his nominations are coming rapid-fire. According to the Washington Times, on Thursday Trump released his sixth round of nominations to the judiciary, bringing the number of appointments to more than 60. While so far only five of those nominees have actually made it through the appointment process and been confirmed, that still outpaces both Obama (who had no judges confirmed in the first six months in office) and George W. Bush (who had only three confirmed).
Of course it’s easy for Trump to go hard and fast on judicial nominees. The odds he has any real involvement in the selection process is slim to say the least. There is little doubt that his process for picking judges is about as involved as throwing darts at a list on a dartboard. The real work is that of groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, whose Supreme Court nominee list is simply being cribbed for the most part as a base for filling these national slots.
And that is why, not surprisingly, we are seeing a group of judicial appointments that include judges who believe, among other things, that abortion is akin to slavery and would gladly force a pregnant person to give birth against their will, regardless of any economic, psychological, or physical risks a pregnancy would cause.
We aren’t talking about in some far off future, either. As Rewire legal analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo explains, one of the latest nominees, Steve Grasz of Nebraska, could very well end the ability to get an abortion after the first trimester in a number of states if he is confirmed, opening the door to overturning Roe v. Wade in the process.
“Should he be confirmed, Grasz would sit on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals where states like Arkansas, Missouri, and South Dakota have either passed or tried to pass dilation and evacuation (D and E) abortion bans [which is the almost exclusive means of obtaining an abortion after 14 weeks],” writes Mason Pieklo. “Arkansas passed such a ban, but it is currently blocked by federal court order. If one of the other states passes such a ban, and if a federal court—such as the Eighth Circuit—upholds it, conservatives may have found another pathway to attacking Roe. They are also hoping this kind of legal outcome happens while Justice Kennedy is still on the bench, as his dissent in Stenberg suggests he’s at least open to further banning specific abortion procedures.”
I’ve written before about the disaster that could come about if there were a federal ban on D&E abortions, a law that would limit the ability to get an abortion to only the first trimester of pregnancy. For those who learned late about their pregnancies, or have physical issues with their fetuses, who cannot find the money to get the procedure right away or find their closest clinics too full for them to be quickly seen, the clock would tick faster than ever before, putting a safe, legal abortion rapidly out of reach.
But that is obviously the goal of every nominee that Trump will offer during his time in office, and we still have dozens and dozens to go. At this point the only thing slowing the far right’s takeover of our entire legal system is the filibuster and the fact that the Senate GOP does not have a veto-proof majority.
Elections matter. The Republicans took the gamble to put a ridiculously inexperienced, potentially unstable man in the highest office in the nation in order to remake the entire federal judiciary into their socially conservative fever dream, knowing that if they can just have a few years they can create a court that no one will be able to bring down for decades.
They very well might do it, too. That is, if the madman in the Oval Office doesn’t blow us up before their nominees are actually confirmed.