While the House of Representatives debates articles of impeachment against Donald Trump on Wednesday, the Senate will confirm 13 of the president’s judicial nominees. The continued churn of Trump’s judicial confirmation machine ensures that the impact of his soon-to-be-tainted presidency will be felt for decades.
Because Senate Republicans unilaterally changed the chamber’s rules, the Senate is able to expedite the confirmation of these nominations in little more than a day. It remains unclear whether Democrats will force every vote or minute of available debate to slow the process down, even a little. Each nominee will be elevated to a lifetime appointment on a federal district court. Trump has already placed 120 judges on district courts; after Wednesday’s vote, he will have appointed nearly one-fifth of all district court judges. (He has also appointed 50 judges to the federal courts of appeals—more than a quarter of all appellate judges—as well as two Supreme Court justices.)
Several of Wednesday’s nominees are part of a package deal made between the White House and Democratic senators. For instance, President Barack Obama first nominated Gary Richard Brown and Robert J. Colville, but Republicans blocked their confirmation. Other nominees—including Stephanie Dawkins Davis, Jodi W. Dishman, John M. Gallagher, Bernard Maurice Jones II, Kea Whetzal Riggs, and Lewis J. Liman—have drawn support from both parties, as well as their home-state senators.
Other nominees, however, are controversial. Matthew Walden McFarland, currently a state judge in Ohio, has a conservative jurisprudential record and a history of donations to Republican politicians. He has been a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative network of lawyers whose leader, Leonard Leo, runs a massive dark money operation to stack the courts with jurists who share the goals of the Republican Party. (The Federalist Society’s stated purpose is to combat the “orthodox liberal ideology” that ostensibly dominates “law schools and the legal profession.”)
McFarland has also been a member of the National Rifle Association and the Scioto County Right to Life, an anti-abortion group. On his initial Senate Judiciary questionnaire, McFarland said he had joined the Scioto County Right to Life for just one year, when in fact he was a member from 1998 to 2004. He attributed this lapse to a “clerical error.” A majority of the American Bar Association’s Judiciary Committee rated MacFarland “Qualified,” while a minority rated him “Not Qualified.”
Anuraag Hari Singhal, currently a state judge in Florida—appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican—has a somewhat similar background. Singhal is also a member of the Federalist Society and a past supporter of GOP politicians. Moreover, he’s a member of the St. Thomas More Society, a conservative organization that fights against abortion, surrogacy, and in vitro fertilization.
Daniel Mack Traynor, nominated to the district court of North Dakota, is heavily involved with the state’s Republican Party. He is also a member of the Federalist Society as well as the St. Thomas More Society of North Dakota, which advocated for a failed ballot measure that would’ve blocked access to abortion, surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, and some forms of birth control. And he was a member of the Christian Legal Society, a conservative legal group that unsuccessfully sued for the right to discriminate against gay students at public universities.
The two remaining nominees, Mary Kay Vyskocil of New York and Karen Marston, have both been members of the Federalist Society. Vyskocil currently serves as a bankruptcy judge; Marston is a federal prosecutor.
As lawmakers in the House of Representatives vote to impeach the president for high crimes and misdemeanors, their counterparts in the Senate will be voting to confirm that same president’s nominees to the federal bench. As Republican Sen. Tom Cotton put it, the Senate “is doing real work confirming judges.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing through as many confirmations as he can before the chamber holds an impeachment trial early next year. Democrats have decided to play ball, apparently because they support some of the nominees.
But other individuals on the brink of confirmation, like McFarland, are quintessential Trump nominees: arguably underqualified and deeply connected to conservative organizations that strongly oppose abortion, gun control, and other progressive goals. And there is a strange disconnect between the work of each legislative chamber when one is effectively indicting the president of criminal conduct while the other rams through his judicial picks. Wednesday’s string of confirmations further ensures that, no matter how and when Trump’s presidency ends, his judges will carry on his legacy from the bench well into the future.
Update, Dec. 18, 2019: This post has been updated to clarify the Senate procedures used to expedite Wednesday’s confirmations.
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