A couple of weeks after the 116th Congress opened in January 2019, President Trump announced his first slate of judicial nominees for that congressional session. That slate was notable mostly for what it lacked: any hint of diversity. All six nominees were men, and all six men were white.
Those nominees conformed to a pattern that has held throughout the first three years of the Trump presidency. With ruthless efficiency and speed, and with little consideration of Democratic objections, Trump has managed to largely blunt and even reverse his predecessors’ efforts to diversify the federal judiciary by appointing dozens of white men to the bench.
“It’s bleak for sure,” says Danielle Root, who studies judicial appointments for the progressive Center for American Progress. “It’s not looking good.”
The president’s supporters have cheered the ideological bona fides of Trump’s appointments, which have been largely guided and certified as acceptable by the conservative Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation. They have evinced little concern over the lack of nonwhite, nonmale nominees. In listing President Trump’s top 10 accomplishments in 2019, conservative Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen put Trump’s continuing “to appoint conservative judges at a record pace” in first place.
Detractors have noticed too, worried both by what Trump’s judges believe and what signal a cohort of white males ascending to the federal bench sends to society. They charge that a lack of representation for judges of color and for women could result in a loss of faith in the courts by those communities, in particular on contentious issues like policing, affirmative action and reproductive choice.
“Even since Reagan, both Republicans and Democrats, successively, have done better at increasing diversity,” says Elliot Mincberg, a legal scholar at the progressive think tank People for the American Way. “This is the first time since Reagan that it’s gone backwards.”
Recent (confirmed) nominees by Trump include Steven Menashi, who was accused of racism and Islamophobia, and Kyle Duncan, who participated in an effort to suppress African-American voting in North Carolina. Many Trump nominees have even refused to say whether Brown v. Board of Education was properly decided in 1954. The landmark Supreme Court ruling, a unanimous decision under Chief Justice Earl Warren, struck down school segregation and paved the way for the civil rights movement. Its legitimacy had stood virtually unchallenged since the busing wars of the Nixon era.
The lack of diversity is apparent in Trump nominations for district courts, appellate courts and the Supreme Court. Trump is the first president since Gerald Ford not to nominate either a woman or a person of color to the Supreme Court, though he still might, especially if he gets a second term. (George W. Bush nominated a woman, White House counsel Harriet Miers, but that was in his second term, and her nomination was withdrawn).
Both of Trump’s confirmed Supreme Court justices are middle-aged white men. The first of those — who was also the first Trump nominee to any court — was Neil Gorsuch, nominated by Trump almost exactly three years ago.
Since then, the Senate has confirmed 119 other white men to the courts, out of a total of 187 confirmed judges, which means that white men comprise 64 percent of his appointees to the federal bench. In all, 85 percent of Trump nominees have been white and 76 percent have been men.
Those latest numbers come from “Trump’s Attacks on Our Justice System: 2017-2019,” a new report from a report by Alliance for Justice, a progressive advocacy group that has opposed most Trump judicial nominees. Background information on judges, including gender and ethnic background, can be found at the Federal Judicial Center, a government research agency.