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Courting Disaster: Trump’s Judicial Nominees

His picks could restrict our rights for generations to come.

The Trump-Pence Administration Reshaped Our Nation's Courts

One of the most important powers of the president is nominating federal judges. And former President Trump did this at record speed, appointing more than 220 judges during his tenure.

Many of the judges who Trump nominated and the Senate confirmed are extremely conservative and hold views that are hostile to reproductive health and rights. They now have lifetime positions as federal judges — where they are already making rulings that will affect our rights and access to health care for generations to come.

Who Were Trump's Judicial Nominees?

  • 77% are men

  • 82% are white

  • A record number are rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association (ABA)

Source: NPR

How Extreme and Unqualified Are Trump’s Nominees? 

Meet just a handful of them.

Justin Walker

Nomination Confirmed

  • Record reflects hostility to expanded access to health care — including reproductive health care

  • Strongly opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA), particularly its birth control coverage benefit

  • Wants to end the ACA even though people are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 and need health care more than ever

Cory Wilson

Nominated confirmed

  • Does not believe abortion should be legal
  • Called same-sex marriage “a pander to liberal interest groups”

Lawrence VanDyke

Nomination confirmed | Rated not qualified

  • As Montana's Solicitor General, used his influence to advocate for anti-abortion policies

  • An "allied attorney" for an anti-abortion org, also labeled an anti-LGBTQ hate group

Sarah Pitlyk

Nomination confirmed | Rated not qualified

  • Litigated cases directly opposing abortion rights
  • On the record against surrogacy and in vitro fertilization

Lee Rudofsky

Nomination confirmed

  • Helped strip Planned Parenthood health centers of Medicaid funding
  • Once asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade

Steven Menashi

Nomination confirmed

  • Believes that "ethnonationalism" is a "common and accepted" feature of democracies
  • Authored several anti-abortion and anti-women articles

Matthew W. McFarland

Nomination confirmed

  • Was an avid member of a local anti-abortion group
  • Is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, which has played a critical role in packing the federal courts with anti-abortion judges

William Stickman

Nomination confirmed

  • Staunchly opposes safe, legal abortion
  • Wrote a letter to his local newspaper filled with anti-abortion misinformation

Jeffrey Brown

Nomination confirmed

  • Hostile toward access to reproductive health care and safe, legal abortion
  • Has given public praise to the dissenting opinions in Roe v. Wade, the ruling that affirmed the constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion

Amy Coney Barrett

Nomination confirmed

  • Said judges shouldn’t follow the law or the Constitution if it conflicts with their personal religious beliefs
  • Believes that Roe v. Wade created “a framework of abortion on demand” that “ignited a national controversy”

Kyle Duncan

Nomination confirmed | Rated not qualified

Matthew Kacsmaryk

Nomination confirmed

  • Argued against marriage equality and opposes legislation to prevent LGBTQ discrimination
  • Wants to make it easier to deny people access to reproductive health under the guise of “religious liberty

Jonathan Kobes

Nomination confirmed | Rated not qualified

  • Had only argued a single case in federal appellate court before his nomination
  • As an attorney for a fake women’s health center, he defended a law that forced doctors to lie to people seeking abortion care

Michael Truncale

Nomination confirmed

  • Called for “defunding” Planned Parenthood
  • As a congressional candidate in 2012, he openly bragged about marching in an anti-abortion protest

Wendy Vitter

Nomination confirmed

  • Tried to hide her obvious anti-abortion bias from the Senate Judiciary Committee 
  • Spread widely discredited arguments and misinformation about abortion and birth control

Brett Talley

Nomination withdrawn | Rated not qualified

  • Had never tried a case before his nomination

  • In blog posts and comments he wrote harsh criticism of the “indefensible” Roe v. Wade — and spoke favorably of “the first KKK”

Leonard Steven Grasz

Nomination confirmed | Rated not qualified

  • Referred to Supreme Court rulings on abortion — including Roe v. Wade as “questionable jurisprudence”

  • Defended anti-abortion laws by trying to compare the rights of a fetus to the civil rights of enslaved people

  • Served on the board of a group that advocated for the use of harmful and discredited so-called “conversion therapy” on LGBTQ people

Brian Buescher

Nomination confirmed

Don Willett

Nomination confirmed

  • Voiced disagreement with Roe v. Wade and disputed whether U.S. law recognizes the right to abortion

  • Boasts about his support from anti-reproductive health groups

How Trump Stacked the Courts

The plan to stack the courts with extremists was underway for years, even before Trump announced his run for the presidency. Using unprecedented methods of obstruction, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus brought the process of filling vacant federal judgeships to a crawl — and then, upon taking over the Senate majority in 2014, Republicans further slowed the pace of confirmations to a near halt. McConnell even said no to holding a mere hearing on Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant when Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016.

The result: 108 seats kept vacant by Senate Republicans for Donald Trump to fill.

Trump and Senate Republicans moved swiftly to seize that opportunity — supplanting the snail’s pace of confirmations in the Obama years with a stampede to place extreme and unqualified nominees in lifetime judgeships. The consequences so far have been enormous. On the federal appeals courts, which sit one tier below the U.S. Supreme Court in the federal judiciary, Trump appointees make up one in six active judges.

Court Close-Up: Spotlight on the Fifth Circuit

How all this played out can be seen in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the country’s most conservative circuit courts. The Fifth Circuit is known for flagrantly throwing out precedent to uphold a TRAP law in Louisiana with strong similarities to a law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. Eleven of the Fifth Circuit’s 16 judges are Republican appointees, including five nominated by Trump.



A Louisiana abortion provider is challenging a TRAP law requiring all abortion providers in the state to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, which is difficult or even impossible to get. The Supreme Court is reviewing the Fifth Circuit’s decision to uphold the dangerous law.

Planned Parenthood is challenging the state of Louisiana for ignoring an abortion license application, as well as for a law prohibiting providers from participating in Medicaid while also (and separately) providing abortions. The Fifth Circuit is deciding on it now.



A Mississippi abortion provider is challenging a state law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. The law also includes several TRAP restrictions that ban telemedicine for the abortion pill; ban any type of clinician other than a physician from performing abortions; and require patients to make two trips to the provider and wait an extra, unnecessary 24 hours before obtaining a safe, legal abortion. 

A district court blocked the law and the Fifth Circuit is deciding on it now.



Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are challenging a Texas law that bans an abortion procedure commonly used in the second trimester. The Fifth Circuit heard arguments in the case and it went to the Supreme Court; the next step depends on the Supreme Court’s action in the Louisiana TRAP law case. 

Several Texas abortion providers are challenging state laws requiring postabortal tissue to be buried or cremated. The Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments on June 10, and is making its decision soon. 

The Role of Conservatives

To place Trump nominees into lifetime positions on the federal courts, politicians in the Senate cut corner after corner. Over decades, for instance, the nonpartisan ABA has counseled senators on the qualifications of judicial nominees — but conservatives in the Senate ended that tradition. Some Trump nominees proceeded to Senate confirmation hearings before the ABA could complete the review process — and senators even voted to confirm nominees that the ABA evaluated as “not qualified.”  

Nina Totenberg, a journalist who has covered the federal courts for decades, calls senators’ rush to confirm Trump nominees unprecedented:

Gone, for all practical purposes, is the tradition that prevented action on a judicial nominee who was not approved by his or her home state senators. Gone is the practice of not holding a confirmation hearing until the American Bar Association has completed its professional evaluation of the nominee. Gone is the general practice of not piling up multiple nominees in one hearing. And now, for the first time, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding confirmation hearings during a Senate recess, over the objections of the minority party.


Stacking the Courts With Extremists Helps the Far-Right Agenda in Two Big Ways:


Erode our last line of defense in protecting our rights, health, and communities.

Packing the courts with extreme opponents of abortion, birth control, LGBTQ+ rights, and immigrant rights is a clear attempt to whittle away at our rights.

Trump promised, as a candidate, to appoint judges who would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. His judicial nominees may erode or reverse advances in health care access, including abortion — with disproportionate harm to women of color, people with low incomes, women in rural areas, and immigrants.


Sway the courts for generations to come.

Conservatives enjoyed unchecked rule in Washington under President Trump, but knew that their grip on Congress and the White House might slip.

Ideologues hoped to lock in their power through the courts — giving extremists decades in which to use the judiciary to undermine access to safe and legal abortion, access to health care, the right to vote, environmental and consumer protections, and more.

Senators Have the Power

Trump's packing of the courts depended upon crucial votes by U.S. senators. It just took a handful of senators to make the difference between confirmation and rejection of Trump’s harmful nominees — impacting our rights and freedoms for years to come.

For example:

The Senate's Vote to Confirm Leonard Steven Grasz

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) joined a party line vote to confirm Grasz. This was despite Grasz being an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ judge rated “not qualified” by the ABA.

The Senate's Vote to Confirm Kyle Duncan

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) voted with their party to give Kyle Duncan a lifetime position on a circuit court of appeals. Duncan's opposed to abortion, birth control, marriage equality, and adoption rights for same-sex couples.

The Senate's Vote to Confirm Brett Kavanaugh

Senators Collins, Gardner, and Tillis voted to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. In doing so, they ignored grave concerns, including multiple allegations of sexual violence.