As of the date of this publication, nine of President Trump's judicial nominees have received a "not qualified" rating from the American Bar Association.

Five of them have been confirmed.

What’s your take:
  • Is the ABA biased against conservatives?
  • Or are these Trump administration appointments genuinely not qualified?

List of Trump Judicial Nominees Rated Not Qualified by ABA

Here’s what’s going on:

  • On December 12, 2017, the U.S. Senate confirmed Trump nominee L. Steven Grasz as a judge to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Grasz passed by a 50-48 vote, despite the fact that the American Bar Association (ABA) unanimously rated him not qualified. They based their rating on concerns that Grasz would not be able to set aside a “passionately held social agenda,” and that his colleagues found him "gratuitously rude."
  • Holly Lou Teeter, another Trump nominee, was rated not qualified by a substantial majority of the ABA, due to her lack of requisite trial experience. She was confirmed as a District of Kansas judge on August 1, 2018.
  • On August 28, 2018, Charles B. Goodwin was confirmed as a court judge in the Western District of Oklahoma, despite receiving a majority not qualified rating by the ABA.
  • Vice President Pence broke a tie vote in the Senate on December 11, 2018 to confirm Jonathan Kobes, a second Trump nominee to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Kobes had  a “not qualified” rating from a substantial majority of the American Bar Association. The ABA stated he didn’t have the required experience or ability to perform the necessary scholarly writing an appellate judge must do.  
  • Justin R. Walker, 37 was confirmed to be a judge on a US Western District of Kentucky court on October 24, 2019. The ABA rated Walker "not qualified" due to a substantial absence of any significant trial experience.
  • On Wednesday, October 30, 2019, federal appeals court nominee Lawrence J.C. VanDyke reportedly cried during a Senate confirmation hearing. The tears came upon hearing a letter stating that a substantial majority of the ABA had ranked him not qualified. William C. Hubbard, chair of the ABA's standing committee, called VanDyke “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules.”
  • US district judge nominee Sarah E. Pitlyk has also been ranked unanimously not qualified by the ABA, due to her lack of any trial or real litigation experience. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on her nomination on November 7.
  • Two Trump judicial nominees, John O'Connor and Brett Talley, both of whom were unanimously rated not qualified by the ABA, withdrew from consideration.

Trump’s Legacy of Judicial Appointees

As of November 14, 2019, President Donald Trump has had 162 judicial appointments confirmed, more than any of the last five presidents. It is his prioritization of the federal appeals courts, however that really sets him apart.

Here’s the breakdown of Trump judicial appointees at the time of this post:
  • 2  United States Supreme Court justices (Gorsuch and Kavanaugh)
  • 46  U.S. Court of Appeals judges
  • 112  U.S. District Court judges
  • 2  U.S. Court of International Trade judges
The Trump administration’s judicial appointees represent almost a quarter of U.S. federal appeals court judges and 14 percent of district court judges.

The relative youth of President Trump’s judicial appointees is also notable. Many could remain on the bench for 30 or 40 years. The President recently said that these lifetime appointments are a big part of his legacy.

He’s had some help. In the final two years of President Obama’s presidency, the 114th Senate left a record number of vacancies in the federal judiciary. In April, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell R-KY) used a procedural maneuver to cut debate for lower-level nominees from 30 hours to two hours. Since then, the Senate has become a virtual judicial nomination factory.

The Controversy Continues

While the vast majority of the president’s appointees were rated “well qualified” by the ABA, there has still been a measure of controversy. Almost 70% of Trump's judicial appointees are white men. Dozens of them have refused to answer whether they believe that racial segregation of public schools is unconstitutional.

Steven J. Menashi, a White House lawyer just confirmed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals based in New York, is a prime example. The Senate appointed him after a contentious hearing. During the process, he refused to answer some questions relating to his work with the Department of Education to deny debt relief to students who say they have been cheated by for-profit colleges.

Menashi’s nomination had raised bipartisan concerns with his dismissive writings about diversity, women’s rights, and the LGBTQ community. In the past, he has criticized women marching against sexual assault, calling them “gynocentrists.” He compared colleges' practice of collecting race data to the Nazi Nuremberg laws, and defended a fraternity’s “ghetto party,” because only one party-goer had worn an Afro.

However, Menashi received a rating of “well qualified” from the American Bar Association.

Still, some Senate Republicans feel the ABA is a “liberal, dark money group.” The National Review has also been open in their view that the ABA has a clear bias against Republican nominees.

What’s your take? Tell us what you think.

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