Trump changing complexion of federal courts

Associated Press | 11/17/2017, 7 p.m.
President Trump is nominating white men to America’s federal courts at a rate not seen in nearly 30 years, threatening ...


President Trump is nominating white men to America’s federal courts at a rate not seen in nearly 30 years, threatening to reverse a slow transformation toward a judiciary that reflects the nation’s diversity.

So far, 91 percent of President Trump’s nominees are white, and 81 percent are male, an Associated Press analysis has found. Three of every four are white men, with few African-Americans and Hispanics in the mix. The last president to nominate a similarly homogenous group was President George H.W. Bush.

The shift could prove to be one of President Trump’s most enduring legacies. These are lifetime appointments, and the president has inherited both an unusually high number of vacancies and an aging population of judges. That puts him in position to significantly reshape the courts that decide thousands of civil rights, environmental, criminal justice and other disputes across the country.

The White House has been upfront about its plans to quickly fill the seats with conservatives, and has made clear that judicial philosophy tops any concerns about shrinking racial or gender diversity.

President Trump is anything but shy about his plans.

“Nobody wants to talk about it,” he said. “But when you think of it ... that has consequences 40 years out.” He predicted at a recent Cabinet meeting, “A big percentage of the court will be changed by this administration over a very short period of time.”

Advocates for putting more women and racial minorities on the bench argue that courts that more closely reflect the demographics of the population ensure a broader range of viewpoints and inspire greater confidence in judicial rulings.

One court that has become a focus in the debate is the Eastern District of North Carolina, a region that, despite its sizeable African-American population, has never had an African-American judge. A seat on that court has been open for more than a decade. President George W. Bush named a white man, and President Obama at different points nominated two African-American women, but none of those nominees ever came to a vote in the U.S. Senate.

President Trump has re-nominated President Bush’s original choice: Thomas Farr, a private attorney whose work defending North Carolina’s redistricting maps and a voter identification law has raised concerns among civil rights advocates.

Kyle Barry, senior policy counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that when diversity is lacking, “There’s a clear perception where the courts are not a place people can go and vindicate their civil rights.”

In recent decades, Democrats have consistently named more racial minorities and women on the courts. But even compared to his Republican predecessors, President Trump’s nominees stand out. So far, he has nominated the highest percentage of white judges in his first year since President Ronald Reagan. If he continues on this trend through his first term, he will be the first Republican since President Herbert Hoover to name fewer women and minorities to the court than his GOP predecessor.

In his first year, President Obama’s confirmed judicial nominees were 31 percent white men. President Bush had 67 percent; President Clinton, 38 percent; President George H.W. Bush, 74 percent; and President Reagan, 93 percent.