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“Trumptastrophe”: The Far Right’s courts takeover (and the harm it has caused to our rights and freedom)

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Welcome to our weekly “Trumptastrophe” series that serves to remind us of the destructive policies, decisions, and actions we encountered during the Trump presidency and the threats that he and others in the MAGA movement still pose – and to keep those moments clear in our memory as we fight to defeat Republican extremists during the upcoming elections.

This week’s Trumptastrophe focuses on former President Trump and the Far Right’s ongoing efforts to appoint MAGA ideologues to the federal judiciary who will uphold their extreme and unpopular agenda:

On June 15, 2017, Trump and “a who’s who of the Washington conservative legal establishment” attended a traditional “formal investiture ceremony” for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who had actually joined the court and begun work after his Senate confirmation two months earlier.

Trump’s attendance at the ceremonial event was a reminder of the corrupt process that allowed him to start putting his stamp on the Supreme Court. The Gorsuch nomination was made possible by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s willingness to abuse his power to prevent the Senate from even considering President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The right-wing legal movement spent tens of millions of dollars supporting McConnell’s unprincipled obstruction and then promoting Gorsuch’s confirmation. The nomination was shepherded by Leonard Leo, chief architect of and fundraiser for the Federalist Society’s long campaign to achieve ideological domination over the federal courts. (Leo, whose secretive and shady network of nonprofits and corporate entities controls well over a billion dollars, is now determined to do to the rest of our society and culture what he has done to the Supreme Court.)

Religious-right groups celebrated Gorsuch’s confirmation as a key to achieving their policy goals, which included overturning Roe v. Wade, further weakening the separation of church and state, and reversing court decisions favoring equality for LGBTQ people.  In the same month as Gorsuch’s investiture ceremony, religious-right activists at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference heard MAGA Republican officials dreamily imagining the kind of “epic, titanic shifts” that future Trump justices could enable.

Of course, Gorsuch was only the first of three Trump nominees who solidified the right-wing Supreme Court majority that gave religious-right groups their fondest wish—the obliteration of Roe v. Wade as a stepping stone to a complete national ban on abortion. The Trump court has also advanced Christian nationalists’ goal of steadily dismantling the wall of separation between church and state, and has further undermined the Voting Rights Act, worker rights, environmental protection, and more.

While Gorsuch joining the Court heralded the increasingly tight grip of its right-wing majority, he has sometimes disappointed his supporters, as when he joined the 2020 Bostock decision holding that civil rights laws prohibiting job discrimination on the basis of sex apply to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Gorsuch’s break with the Far Right in that decision is one reason religious-right leaders are backing a push by the American Family Association’s Center for Judicial Renewal to ensure that only the most reliably far-right judges are considered for the Supreme Court by Trump or any other future Republican president.

Right Wing Watch reported last fall that the Center for Judicial Renewal was lobbying Republican presidential candidates and senators to consider only potential justices who meet the CJR’s “biblical worldview” standard—an explicit religious test that violates both the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution. Just recently, Right Wing Watch reported that the Center is now hoping to expand its research—and blacklisting of conservative judges who don’t meet their religious standards—to nominees for the lower courts as well.

Trump’s justices and hundreds of lower court nominees—many of them unqualified or more accurately described as ideological warriors than judges—have undermined Americans’ basic rights and freedoms as well as the government’s ability to protect our health, safety, and communities from corporate wrongdoing.

In contrast, President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees have been phenomenally well qualified as well as historically diverse personally and professionally. They have demonstrated a commitment to fair courts that uphold justice for everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful. As People For the American Way President Svante Myrick noted in an op ed commemorating the 70th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling this month, Biden-nominated judges are often quietly holding the line against discrimination and injustice. And Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has been a brilliant addition to the Court who has already established herself as a clear and principled voice in opposition to the ideologues of the court’s right-wing majority.

Trump got elected in 2016 in good measure based on the overwhelming support he received from white evangelicals, whose leaders rallied around Trump’s promise to give them a Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade. In his bid to return to power in this year’s elections, Trump is counting on even more overwhelming support and turnout from conservative evangelicals, and is actively courting white Christian nationalist leaders, who will certainly expect him to once again turn their priorities into government policy.

Anti-choice, anti-equality, and anti-government groups are going all-out for Trump in 2024 because they want hundreds of ideologically committed federal judges and justices to serve as judicial shock troops that will empower them to carry out their ambitious political goals of repealing the New Deal and reversing more than a century of progress on LGBTQ equality, voting rights, health care, environmental protection and more.

Federal elections are about many things at once; this year they are emphatically about the future of the courts, and therefore the future of justice in our country. To strengthen our resolve in defeating MAGA Republicans this November and restoring balance and integrity to our judiciary, sign People For’s new “Vote the Courts” pledge to help demonstrate your commitment to ensuring principled and fair-minded judges sit on our courts. >>

These are just some of the reasons we need YOU in this fight. So, find your favorite way to unwind after reading through this week’s recap, and then make a plan for how you will fight back this week, this month, this election cycle.