JUSTICE DENIED: Trump To Reshape Federal Courts After Years Of GOP Blocking Obama
“Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied”
This legal maxim dates from at least Victorian Era British common law, although similar ideas can be found in the Torah and the Magna Carta. Martin Luther King Jr. paraphrased it in his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” It is the flip side of “the right to a speedy trial” found in the Sixth Amendment. It means that delaying justice is ethically equivalent to denying justice.
The Republican party ought to–but almost certainly won’t–think long and hard about this maxim of justice as they set out to fill an unusually large number of open federal judge seats after Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in January.
Because of the GOP’s unprecedentedly long and sustained blockade of federal courts, Trump will inherit 103 vacant federal judge seats and a Supreme Court Justice seat. This is more than twice as many openings as President Barack Obama inherited from President George W. Bush. Trump plans to “reshape the judiciary,” according to the Washington Post.
“State gun control laws, abortion restrictions, voter laws, anti-discrimination measures and immigrant issues are all matters that are increasingly heard by federal judges and will be influenced by the new composition of the courts. Trump has vowed to choose ideologues in the mold of the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon — a prospect that has activists on the right giddy.”
This is one of the key ways that Republicans have rigged the rules of American democracy to pave the way for one-party state rule. On top of gerrymandering to rig legislatures against the majority of voters, voter suppression, a repeated reliance on the Electoral College to defy the majority, Republicans also broke with over two centuries of our republic’s traditions to block President Obama’s court nominees. This will give Republicans full control over the government against the wishes of the majority of voters.
The judicial nominations that the Republicans brazenly stole from Obama are likely to be the longest lasting legacy of Trump and the Russian meddling, politicized FBI and Electoral College that made him president despite losing the election by almost 3 million votes, or 2.1% of all votes cast.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric and the picks he has already made for the Justice Department do not bode well for American democracy. Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is an unreconstructed racist who hearkens back to Jim Crow, who openly advocates for discrimination against minorities in the legal and electoral systems. In 1986, Sessions was blocked from appointment by Ronald Reagan to a federal judgeship, because he was considered too racist for the position. Thirty years later, and our nation’s approach to Justice is about to look more similar to the way it was before 1963 than it did even under Reagan in the 1980s.
Based on what we know about Trump, his campaign, and his pattern of appointments, he is likely to seek to appoint judges who are, above all else, loyal to him personally. They are likely to have little judicial experience, to be radicals who will prostrate themselves before the interests of corporate profit, and take a sledgehammer to civil rights.
Republicans’ failure to honor America’s longstanding tradition of deferring to the executives’ nominee except to object to object to a rare appointee who isn’t qualified has meant that many outstanding court cases are backlogged waiting for a federal judge. They are cases that should have been heard in the past few years. They should have been heard by a judge nominated by Obama and approved by the Republican Senate. For 238 years prior, that is what would have happened.
But the radical Republican party has sought to destroy the traditions of fair play that have made our democracy work. They have set the stage for a kleptocratic one-party regime, like Vladimir Putin’s autocracy in Russia. Trump is just the spoiled, rich man-baby who came along on a magic carpet of lies and white nationalism to scoop up what the Republican party had already prepared.
Because they stole the nominations from a president who was elected with 53% of the vote, reelected with 51% of the vote, and will give it to a president who lost the election with 46% of the vote, they will revolutionize the federal courts from the most reliably impartial branch of government to an inherently illegitimate, anti-justice and anti-democratic institution.
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