Tracking the latest developments in the fight for a fair America
Last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court were marked by frustration and prevarication: Frustration on the part of Democrats whose pointed questions to the nominee and calls for documents were largely stonewalled, and prevarication on the part of Kavanaugh who avoided direct answers and made statements that were too often misleading and disingenuous.
Judge Kavanaugh, who serves on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, told the ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, that he considered the 1973 abortion-rights ruling, Roe v. Wade, to be “settled law.” And he reinforced that time and time again by saying it was a precedent that had been followed by another case that was also a precedent, thus giving the impression that the Roe decision could not be overturned.
But in a 2003 email that was made public during the hearing, Kavanaugh wrote, “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court [sic] can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.”
He repeatedly declined to give a direct answer as to how he felt about the decision, or how he might vote if someone asked the Court to overturn it. However, President Trump repeatedly promised to nominate to the Supreme Court someone who would vote to overturn Roe.
On June 11, 2018 President Trump nominated Jonathan Allen Kobes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Kobes was nominated to fill the seat of Judge Roger Wollman, who announced he will take senior status.
Kobes’s relative lack of legal experience for a nominee to a U.S. Court of Appeals is noteworthy. According to his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire, he has served as lead counsel in just two trials that led to a verdict. It appears in his questionnaire that he has had just one appellate oral argument. He has argued no cases before the Supreme Court. And, he has no legal scholarship, authored no law review articles, nor made any public pronouncements on legal issues (his only substantive public statements, in a Dutch newspaper, relate to politics and Donald Trump). His career of late has been primarily as a political aide to Senator Mike Rounds.
In the absence of extensive trial, appellate or academic accomplishments, the most notable aspects of his record are his closeness to South Dakota’s junior senator and his personal political views. For example, he has fought reproductive rights, defended President Trump’s attacks on federal judges, and been a member of the Federalist Society and National Rifle Association. Little in his record suggests he will be a fair-minded judge who will properly apply critical rights and legal protections.
On May 15, 2018, President Trump nominated Ryan Nelson to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. If confirmed, Nelson will replace Judge N. Randy Smith, who is scheduled to assume senior status on August 11, 2018.
Based on our review of Nelson’s record, Alliance for Justice opposes his nomination to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ryan Nelson attended law school at the J. Reuben Clark Law School of Brigham Young University. While in attendance, Nelson worked as a research assistant for then-professor Thomas Lee, who currently serves on the Utah Supreme Court and is on President Trump’s Supreme Court short list. He also joined the ultraconservative Federalist Society – an outside group to which Trump has delegated important aspects of the judicial nomination process – and has been a member since that time.
On April 25, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Trump v. Hawaii, a case challenging President Trump’s third and latest ban on travel for nationals of several predominantly Muslim countries. The Court’s decision will most immediately impact the individuals who are barred indefinitely from coming to the United States, as well as their family members and extended communities here in the United States. But more broadly, the outcome in this case will have important repercussions for the ongoing meaningfulness of the First Amendment’s most basic protection against religious discrimination.
Much of the briefing and oral argument before the Supreme Court revolved around statutory questions about the President’s authority to suspend entry into the United States and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s prohibition on nationality-based discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas. But at its core, this case is really about whether the Supreme Court will hold the President accountable for demonizing and vilifying Muslims and Islam, or whether the justices will turn a blind eye to his blatantly discriminatory rhetoric and policies. Regardless of the grounds for the decision, a ruling in favor of the government would send the distinct message that political leaders can gleefully denigrate a religion and its adherents—and then proceed to implement unjustified policies that target and disfavor that religion—without consequence. Such an outcome would have the practical impact of gutting the core of the Establishment Clause. It would send the message to plaintiffs in this litigation, and to religious minorities across the country, that the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom has lost its practical significance.
On April 10, 2018, President Trump nominated Allen Winsor to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Winsor, a current justice on Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, previously served as Solicitor General of Florida from 2013 to 2016, under Attorney General Pam Bondi. In that capacity, he defended several troubling laws, including repeated efforts in Florida to dilute the vote of persons of color and make it harder for Floridians to vote. He also advanced efforts to erode reproductive rights and marriage equality, as well as supported questionable practices as the state carried out the death penalty.
As the Senate Judiciary Committee reviews Winsor’s controversial positions and activities during government service, it is worth noting current committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s statement in opposing Caitlin Halligan, then Solicitor General of New York, to be a judge on the D.C. Circuit: “Some of my colleagues have argued that we should not consider this aspect of [Caitlin] Halligan’s record, because at the time she was working as the Solicitor General of New York. But, no one forced Ms. Halligan to approve and sign this brief.”
Like a vast majority of Trump’s nominees, Winsor is a member of the Federalist Society.
Alliance for Justice has prepared this blog to highlight areas of Winsor’s record, based on our review thus far, in which we believe greater scrutiny by the Senate is warranted. Click here to read our opposition letter.