By Annie Laurie Gaylor
The Washington Post had a chilling report on Christmas Day revealing that Donald Trump will inherit more than 100 judicial vacancies when he becomes president.
Even if Trump's presidency is short-lived, the effects of decisions by Trump's lifetime appointees could linger on for generations. These judges will decide on access to abortion and contraception, on immigration and voter rights, anti-discrimination policies, gun control — not to mention the ever-controversial principle of separation between state and church.
Since 2015 when they seized control of the Senate, Republican senators have obstructed Obama nominations. No floor votes were scheduled on 25 of Obama's recent court nominees, even though they'd been approved out of committee with bipartisan support.
Then came the shameful decision by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Charles Grassley, chair of the Judiciary Committee, to ignore Obama's nomination to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has denounced the blocking of that solid and centrist nomination — Merrick Garland, chief justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia — as "the most outrageous act of obstruction and irresponsibility" witnessed in his 42 years in the Senate.
Despite the GOP stonewalling, Obama did manage 329 judicial appointments, naming more female, minority and gay or lesbian judges than any other president. Democrats currently make up 51 percent of circuit court judges. Unfortunately, according to the Brookings Institution, that is expected to drop to 43 percent by 2020 under Trump, while Republican appointees, currently about 34 percent of district judgeships, are projected to rise to about 50 percent. The Brookings Institution notes one silver lining: Many to-be-departing judges are Republican appointments, meaning Trump replacements may not significantly shift the balance of power. Also hopeful is the fact that the Senate tradition is to consider nominees only if supported by both senators from the nominee's home state — and more than half the states are represented by at least one Democratic senator.
Meanwhile, here are some of the chilling possibilities deemed to be on the short list as Scalia's replacement, according to NPR's court-watcher Nina Totenberg:
• William Pryor, former attorney general of Alabama, who was appointed to the 11th Circuit by President George W. Bush while Congress was in recess. As NPR's Nina Totenberg notes, "Judge Pryor is an outspoken critic of the Supreme Court's decisions on abortion, homosexuality and the so-called Miranda warning."
• Diane Sykes of Wisconsin, an arch-conservative appointed by Bush to the 7th Circuit. Totenberg notes, "She authored an opinion expanding the rights of employers to limit their workers access to contraceptives on religious grounds . . . [and] mandating state subsidies for anti-gay religious groups on college campuses, a position subsequently reversed by the Supreme Court."
• Judge Raymond Gruender of Missouri, who, Totenberg relates, "wrote a decision upholding state-mandated suicide warnings before abortions."
The dismaying list of the remaining 21 Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society-stamped nominees goes on and on. But whomever Trump appoints to replace Scalia at least will not change the partisan balance on the Supreme Court, which was already a 5-4 swing to the Republican side.
Let's toast the health of our elderly liberal justices on the highest bench!
And a toast to the opposition, such as South Carolina's Democratic Party head Jaime Harrison, who won't forget how the GOP treated Obama's nomination and has urged: "It's time to roll up our sleeves and fight back."
It's long past time, actually.
Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of FFRF.