Lack of diversity in Trump’s first judicial nominees for 116th Congress

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has sent its first group of judicial nominees to be confirmed by the 116th Congress, which opened earlier this month.

Notably, all six nominees are men. All also appear to be white, though the White House declined to answer questions about their backgrounds.

None appears to be a judicial neophyte, a charge that dogged some Trump nominees his first two years in office. And each is sufficiently experienced to avoid the kind of embarrassing exchange that transpired last year between John N. Kennedy, R-La., and Matthew S. Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Committee who acknowledged that he had never tried a case.

John G. Malcolm, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, which has advised Trump on his nominations to the federal bench, speculates that the vetting process for judges has improved since Pat Cipollone replaced Don McGahn as White House counsel. “These people who are nominated appear to be somewhat more low-profile,” he says.

The nominees’ lack of ethnic or gender diversity suggests that, with a 53-47 majority in the Senate, President Trump has no need to placate Democrats or centrist Republicans. Instead, he can remake the judicial branch to suit his own vision and agenda, just as he promised he would.

That is precisely what troubles progressives. Malik Russell, spokesman for the NAACP, strongly criticized the new nominees. “President Trump’s judicial nominees seem to consistently represent an extension of his racism and xenophobia,” he tells Yahoo News. “These new appointments are appalling, and we will continue to object to the lack of representation of all communities on the federal bench.”

Related: Congress tries to avert a partial shutdown

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Congress tries to avert a partial shutdown
The entrance to the office of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is decorated for the holidays as Congress tries to pass legislation that would avert a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The Capitol is seen under early morning skies in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. The Senate approved legislation to temporarily fund the government late last night, a key step toward averting a federal shutdown after President Donald Trump backed off his demand for money for a border wall with Mexico. The House is expected to vote before Friday's deadline, when funding for a portion of the government expires. Without resolution, more than 800,000 federal workers would face furloughs or be forced to work without pay, disrupting government operations days before Christmas. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker Paul Ryan leaves the chamber as a revised spending bill is introduced that includes $5 billion demanded by President Donald Trump for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as Congress tries to avert a partial shutdown, in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, the speaker-designate for the new Congress, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., leave after talking to reporters as a revised spending bill is introduced in the House that includes $5 billion demanded by President Donald Trump for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as Congress tries to avert a partial shutdown, in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., walks to the chamber as a revised spending bill is introduced that includes $5 billion demanded by President Donald Trump for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as Congress tries to avert a partial shutdown, in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker Paul Ryan walks to the chamber as a revised spending bill is introduced that includes $5 billion demanded by President Donald Trump for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as Congress tries to avert a partial shutdown, in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, the speaker-designate for the new Congress, arrive to talk to reporters as a revised spending bill is introduced in the House that includes $5 billion demanded by President Donald Trump for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as Congress tries to avert a partial shutdown, in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, heads into a House Republican strategy meeting as Congress tries to pass legislation that would avert a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Reporters at the Capitol wait for Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to return from the White House as Congress tries to pass legislation that would avert a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., is surrounded by reporters as he leaves the chamber as President Donald Trump and Congress bicker over terms for funding the government and his demand for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, pushing the government to the brink of a partial shutdown, in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., top, is met by reporters at the Capitol after he and Speaker Paul Ryan returned from the White House as Congress tries to pass legislation that would avert a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, speaks during a television interview at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. President Donald Trump insisted on funding a wall or other barrier along the southern U.S. border as tensions over a possible partial government shutdown intensified in the wake of the presidents refusal to sign a stopgap spending bill. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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All six nominations are for district court positions. The nominees are Greg G. Guidry, of Louisiana; James Wesley Hendrix, Sean D. Jordan and  Mark T. Pittman — all of Texas; Michael T. Liburdi, of Arizona; and Peter D. Welte, of North Dakota. The judges represent a departure from Trump’s contentious second nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. Unlike Kavanaugh, they are not Ivy League-minted products of the Northeastern establishment. Nor do they appear to have long records of controversial statements or writings.

Obama nominated Hendrix in 2016, though liberal judicial activists say that hardly means he is a moderate. In fact, he is affiliated with the Federalist Society, as is Pittman.

The current nominees — the 19th tranche sent to Capitol Hill by this White House — make for demographic continuity with the previous session of Congress. In the spring of 2018, Jennifer Bendery of HuffPost (which is, like Yahoo News, a part of Verizon Media) quipped that Trump’s judicial nominees were “about as diverse as a casting call for Mad Men.” She noted that 77 percent were male and 92 percent were white. Not a single one was an open member of the LGBT community.

The new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who proved a ferocious defender of Kavanaugh when his nomination appeared imperiled. Also on the committee are Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the first Republican women to sit on the committee in more than 200 years. The committee is expected to recommend judges as quickly as it did in the 115th Congress, when chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, approved a record 85.

Malcolm of the Heritage Society says those judge will continue to represent unbending conservative principles, with little in their records to appease Democrats. “I don’t know why they would change course with that,” he says. “That wouldn’t make sense to me.”

 

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