WASHINGTON — The Washington-based conservative group Judicial Crisis Network, which has spent more than $8 million on ad campaigns supporting President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, pledged Wednesday to keep fighting Senate Democrats’ “obstruction” of the president’s picks for judges.
“All options are on the the table; nothing is out of the question,” Carrie Severino, JCN’s chief counsel and policy director, told TMN.
JCN’s latest national ad campaign — $1 million worth of spots on CNN, Fox News and airport news channels — targets Senate Democrats, saying they have sought to delay every Trump nominee for the federal judiciary.
“The American people see right through Senate Democrats’ partisan obstruction,” Severino said. “We will continue to help push for well-qualified judicial nominees and stop the unnecessary gridlock.”
When Trump took office, Severino said, 108 federal judge slots had been vacant. After confirmation of about 35 of his nominees, the number of vacancies has climbed to 180. But Trump has set a record for having the most federal appeals court judges confirmed during the first year of a presidency.
JCN had spent $7 million on an ad campaign to support Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. Gorsuch’s appointment came after a bitter Senate battle culminating with Republican senators overcoming Democrats’ filibuster by discarding longstanding Senate rules and lowering the threshold to a simple majority vote.
In recent weeks, JCN has also targeted Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson, who is seeking reelection, and another candidate for the state’s highest court. Both of the justices face a May 22 election against David Hixson, a conservative attorney who is chief counsel with the Arkansas Department of Human Services.
Wednesday evening, Washington County (Ark.) Circuit Court Judge Doug Martin recused himself from a lawsuit filed by Goodson against TV stations for what she called defamatory ads. Martin had issued an order Monday temporarily blocking the TV stations from airing the ads but removed himself from the case after financial disclosures reportedly revealed he had received $12,000 in payments from Goodson’s husband’s law firm. (See related story: Ark. Judge removes himself from state Supreme Court justice case).
Meantime, JCN’s “dark-money” ads in support of Trump’s judiciary nominees drew criticism from liberal groups.
“You’ve got this perfect storm of a president basically being willing to be led around by these powerful, well-funded ideological extremists like the Judicial Crisis Network and others who are feeding the White House these potential judicial nominees and going after senators who don’t get in line,” Marge Baker, executive vice president for the Washington-based liberal group People for the American Way, told TMN.
“These are nominees who are essentially narrow-minded elitists looking out for the powerful and the wealthy and who don’t understand the law and the Constitution are there to protect all of us, not just the powerful and the privileged,” Baker added.
“And the concern is that these are lifetime seats and these courts decide issues that affect everyone’s daily lives in so many respects. You’re talking about civil rights, voting rights, workplace protections, consumer rights, reproductive health, LGBTQ equality, rights for the disabled, the elderly. These jurists would eliminate the protections that have been built up over the years since the New Deal.”
Severino, however, countered that Democrats have forced 30 hours of floor debate on each Trump nominee through cloture solely because of “pure partisan politics.”
“It’s discouraging because all these judges have been so excellent, but they’re being slow-walked,” she said. “Even nominees who have not just majority, but unanimous support are being required to jump through all these procedural hoops. It virtually never even involves the nominee at hand, so they’re using something that was intended to create the opportunity for debate to just shut down the nomination process.”
Severino said Republicans’ refusal to vote on Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, differs markedly from Democrats’ blocking Trump’s federal judiciary nominees.
“That was a particular instance that happened one time; it’s one thing not having majority votes and opposing nominees because there is actually a real concern with them,” she said. “It’s a very different thing to simply block every one of a president’s judiciary nominees.”
The 30-secondm JCN-funded national ad opens with photos of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, as a narrator says: “With help from Senator McConnell, Senator Grassley and Senate Republicans, President Trump has put a record number of extraordinarily qualified judges on the bench. Senate Democrats want to stop that progress to keep liberal judges in control — extreme judges hostile to religious liberty, the Second Amendment, our constitutional rights. So they’re obstructing, playing games, instead of voting on nominees. Tell your senator: Stop the obstruction. Do your job. Vote on the judges.”
Asked for examples of objectionable rulings by “liberal judges,” Severino pointed to, among other things, decisions against Trump’s travel ban, along with the president’s efforts to end sanctuary cities and the Obama-era program that has protected from deportation some 800,000 children of illegal immigrants. The judges ruled as they did, Severino said, because “they think that Donald Trump is so horrible that we need to find a different legal standard to be more strict with him. And it’s really an affront against the law to do that.”