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Federal Judges

Trump-appointed judges now fill the country’s federal courts — and their rulings could restrict rights and freedoms for generations.

Learn about the crisis in the nation’s courts and how to take action

Why It Matters

  • U.S. presidents have enormous power in the federal judiciary selection process. The president nominates all federal judges, and the Senate confirms them. 

  • Trump inherited over 100 open judgeships across the country when he took office, and even more vacancies opened up afterward. Trump packed these courts with many judges who have records of restricting reproductive rights and overall health care access.

  • For the Supreme Court, Trump promised to nominate justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade — the case that recognized the right to access safe, legal abortion. Trump’s appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett all have records hostile to access to abortion.

Key Players

Donald Trump

President of the United States

Elected to Office: 11-8-2016
Mike Pence

Vice President of the United States

Elected to Office: 11-8-2016

“[Trump’s judicial nominees] turn the clock back on years of work and effort that went into promoting judicial diversity.”


What to expect next: These judges’ rulings could restrict rights for generations, including the right to access abortion.

The Senate confirms Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, sparking outrage

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
dies, inspiring mourners to gather at vigils and honor RBG’s legacy nationwide

Senate confirms Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court amid nationwide uproar over Christine Blasey Ford’s credible report that he sexually assaulted her

Trump nominates Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, sparks protest

Senate confirms Judge Neil Gorsuch with a “nuclear option” change in the process

Trump nominates Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, sparks protest

Reproductive Rights Are at Risk

Trump appointed 226 judges to our federal judiciary to  lifetime seats.

  • Trump set a record for confirming the most federal appeals judges in a president’s first year. 
  • At this point, nearly one in three federal appeals court judges are Trump nominees.
  • A majority of these judges are white and male, as well as young — which ensures they will serve for a long time.

Because federal judges across the United States hold lifetime appointments, the individuals who sit on the courts will determine the course of American history — and the course of millions of people’s lives. Trump's picks have records indicating that reproductive rights and other vital protections are at serious risk.

Judges, particularly Supreme Court justices, are often the final safeguard for people’s most basic rights and freedoms. The three justices that Trump was able to place on the Supreme court — Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett — are in a position to tip the Supreme Court’s balance away from voting rights, access to health insurance, the constitutional right to abortion, and more.

The Courts and Abortion Access

  • In 2019, states enacted 58 new abortion restrictions — nearly half of which would ban all, most or some abortions. Challenges to these laws in court are likely to be heard by Trump-nominated federal judges. They will be the ones who decide the fate of women’s health and lives in these states. 
  • What’s more, several states have passed six-week abortion bans. Cases challenging these bans (as well as cases about other laws affecting reproductive rights) could work their way up to the Supreme Court.

Background on Federal Judges

Fulfilling a Promise to Appoint Anti-Abortion Justices

Trump said he’d only appoint biased justices who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade and gut the Affordable Care Act. Even though 77% of voters oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, the current composition on the Supreme Court serves as an invitation for states to pass new restrictions on reproductive rights — including abortion bans that fly in the face of Roe v. Wade and could reach the Supreme Court. Currently, at least 20 states are prepared to ban access to abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Planned Parenthood: Abortion Access Report
Kavanaugh’s Record on Abortion, Birth Control

Prior to joining the Supreme Court, Justice Kavanaugh ruled in several cases in favor of blocking access to birth control and safe, legal abortion. In 2017, he sided with the Trump administration in blocking a young, undocumented woman from accessing abortion. In 2015, he stated that employers should be allowed to deny their employees no-copay birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Once on the Court, both in February 2019 and June 2020, he would have let a Louisiana law that would eliminate abortion access at all but one health center in the state take effect.

Restricting Rights Would Harm People of Color

Justices Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch will almost certainly have the chance to rule on important issues like affirmative action, birth control, the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and LGBTQ+ rights. These rulings could deeply harm millions of people, including people of color, who experience disparities because of racist and discriminatory policies.

Hello Beautiful
Another Anti-Birth Control Federal Judge

Federal judge appointee Stuart Kyle Duncan has a long record of restricting reproductive rights, including arguing against access to birth control and safe, legal abortion.

Planned Parenthood Action Blog
Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation Threatens the Right to Safe, Legal Abortion Nationwide

Less than two weeks before the 2020 election, the Senate — led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham — concluded an unprecedented confirmation process to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the United States Supreme Court with Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Judge Barrett’s views are dangerously out of touch with most Americans' and she holds positions that will be a direct threat to our lives and rights — including our health care and reproductive and sexual freedom — for generations to come.

Anti-Abortion Groups Celebrated Kavanaugh’s Confirmation

Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court amid widespread protest from women's rights advocates. Meanwhile, anti-abortion groups celebrated Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation as an opportunity to roll back abortion access and reproductive rights.

New York Magazine
Gorsuch’s Record on Health, Immigration, Voting Rights

Justice Gorsuch also has a record of ruling against access to health care access — even basic access to birth control. Not only has he voted against abortion access, but on the Court, he has voted to uphold the discriminatory Muslim ban, strip people of their right to vote, weaken workers’ rights, and empower fake women’s health centers.

Rewire News
ABA Rated Record Number of Judges as Unqualified

A number of Trump’s nominees have been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. That includes federal appeals court appointee Leonard Steven Grasz, who’s spent his career trying to restrict reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights.

American Independent
How Trump Left a Crisis in the Courts

No president in recent memory has done more to reshape the judiciary than Donald Trump — and it could set back reproductive health and rights for decades. A lot of attention went to Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, but the real action happened in the courts of appeals or “circuit” courts. The leading player: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who strategically helped fill circuit courts at record pace with young, ultra‑conservative judges. Here’s the overview of how Trump, McConnell and their supporters created a lasting conservative legacy in the courts.

Planned Parenthood: Judicial Nominations, Explained

Related Issues

2020 Census

Abortion Coverage

Separating Immigrant Families

Birth Control Coverage

LGBTQ+ Rights

Refusal Policies

Global Gag Rule

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