Lack of diversity in Trump's first judicial nominees for 116th Congress

Alexander Nazaryan
National Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has sent its first group of judicial nominees to be confirmed by the 116th Congress, which opened earlier this month.

Notably, all six nominees are men. All also appear to be white, though the White House declined to answer questions about their backgrounds.

None appears to be a judicial neophyte, a charge that dogged some Trump nominees his first two years in office. And each is sufficiently experienced to avoid the kind of embarrassing exchange that transpired last year between Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and Matthew S. Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Commission who acknowledged that he had never tried a case.

John G. Malcolm, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, which has advised Trump on his nominations to the federal bench, speculates that the vetting process for judges has improved since Pat Cipollone replaced Don McGahn as White House counsel. “These people who are nominated appear to be somewhat more low-profile,” he says.

The nominees’ lack of ethnic or gender diversity suggests that, with a 53-47 majority in the Senate, President Trump has no need to placate Democrats or centrist Republicans. Instead, he can remake the judicial branch to suit his own vision and agenda, just as he promised he would.

Yahoo News photo illustration; center: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters; left row, from top: St. Tammy West Chamber of Commerce, Jackson Walker, University of Texas School of Law via Ballotpedia; right row, from top: Greenberg Traurig, Texas Judicial Branch, Vogel Law Firm; background: J. Scott Applewhite/AP.

That is precisely what troubles progressives. Malik Russell, spokesman for the NAACP, strongly criticized the new nominees. “President Trump’s judicial nominees seem to consistently represent an extension of his racism and xenophobia,” he told Yahoo News. “These new appointments are appalling, and we will continue to object to the lack of representation of all communities on the federal bench.”

All six nominations are for district court positions. The nominees are Greg G. Guidry, of Louisiana; James Wesley Hendrix, Sean D. Jordan and Mark T. Pittman, all of Texas; Michael T. Liburdi, of Arizona; and Peter D. Welte, of North Dakota. The judges represent a departure from Trump’s contentious second nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. Unlike Kavanaugh, they are not Ivy League-minted products of the Northeastern establishment. Nor do they appear to have long records of controversial statements or writings.

President Barack Obama nominated Hendrix in 2016, though liberal judicial activists say that hardly means he is a moderate. In fact, he, like Pittman, is affiliated with the conservative Federalist Society, which has been instrumental in guiding Trump’s remaking of the judiciary branch.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham was a ferocious defender of Brett Kavanaugh. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The current nominees — the 19th tranche sent to Capitol Hill by this White House — make for demographic continuity with the previous Congress. In the spring of 2018, Jennifer Bendery of HuffPost (which is, like Yahoo News, a part of Verizon Media) quipped that Trump’s judicial nominees were “about as diverse as a casting call for Mad Men.” She noted that 77 percent were male and 92 percent were white. Not a single one was an open member of the LGBT community.

The new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who proved a ferocious defender of Kavanaugh when his nomination appeared imperiled. Also on the committee are Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the first Republican women to sit on the committee in more than 200 years. The committee is expected to recommend judges as quickly as it did in the 115th Congress, when Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, approved a record 85.

Malcolm of the Heritage Society says those judge will continue to represent unbending conservative principles, with little in their records to appease Democrats. “I don’t know why they would change course with that,” he says. “That wouldn’t make sense to me.”

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