HomeHAPATrump Stacking Court with Activist Judges

Trump Stacking Court with Activist Judges

Kenneth Kiyul Lee
Kenneth Kiyul Lee

Views from the Edge

Even after Donald Trump is gone from the White House and his chapter is subjected to severe analysis, his impact will continue to haunt the country through the record number of conservative judges that he’s placing on the bench.

In the first two years of the Trump, the Senate has already confirmed 85 federal judges, and the pace has accelerated,” according to the Washington Examiner.  In 2017, there were 19 judges confirmed, and in 2018, that number soared to 66.

In a tense hearing in front of the Senate Judicial Committee, both California senators, Kamala Harris and ranking member Diane Feinstein, tried to delay a vote on Kenneth Kiyul Lee, Donald Trump’s nominee for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday (March 13) wasted no time confronting Lee about decades-old writings on race, HIV and LGBTQ issues.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the committee’s ranking member, said that she was disappointed that Lee, a Los Angeles attorney and former counsel for the George W. Bush administration, had been granted a hearing at all and hoped that his nomination never makes it to a vote.

In a letter to chair Linsay Graham, Harris and Feinstein cited Lee’s failure to turn over more than 75 documents as part of his confirmation questionnaire, including college writings about AIDS, political correctness and feminism.

The Senators noted that this not only reflects an intention to obstruct the vetting process, but also suggests Lee may continue to hold extreme and controversial views, which, if confirmed, would place him well outside the mainstream.

“Mr. Lee’s repeated failure to provide responsive materials to this Committee is a breach of the Committee’s standards and processes — it is not a partisan issue,” the senators wrote.

Since January 2019, Lee has supplemented portions of his record five times, revealing more than 75 articles that he initially failed to disclose.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Harris, a former prosecuting attorney, pressed Kenneth Lee, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, on his views about voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals. According to the Sentencing Project, as of 2010, 1 out of every 13 Black voters had lost the right to vote due to felony convictions, in contrast to the only 1 in 56 non-Black voters who had lost their voting rights due to felony convictions.

“Do you believe that disparate impact is relevant in deciding whether a law that disenfranchises an individual convicted of a crime should be upheld?” asked Harris.

Lee refused to answer the question, directly. “I will follow the precedent, whatever it may be,” Lee said. In an attempt to end this line of questioning, Lee added, “As a judicial nominee, I think it’s inappropriate to opine on issues that may come up before me if I am confirmed …” Two other controversial judicial nominees, Neomi Reo, who had her hearing a day before Lee’s hearing, and Brett Kavanaugh’s infamous hearing months earlier, used similar phrasing to avoid answering tough questions from Democrats. All of Trump’s  recent nominees for judges have been vetted by the Federalist Society, a conservative think tank. Other writings by Lee that troubled Harris was on the subject of undocumented immigrants’ work ethic and  Feinstein grilled Lee about an article he wrote in 1994 in which he claimed that “nine out of 10 people with AIDS are gay or drug users.”

Like other Trump judicial nominees, when confronted with past writings, Lee expressed regret and embarrassment over the article and said his views have changed. He noted that at 18 he “didn’t know science.”

“I absolutely would not write that today,” Lee said. “I truly regret writing that … Looking at that now, 26 years later, I am just embarrassed by it.” Lee said that he knows someone living with HIV, and the idea that that person could read his past writings was “mortifying.” He also said his writings were a “misguided attempt” to support the Reagan administration’s policy on HIV.

The two California senators failed to return the blue slip given to senators when a nominee would preside in their state. Senators would write on the blue slip their recommendations on a nominee and traditionally, the Judiciary Committee would abide by the home state senators’ opinions. Not returning the blue slip was an obvious indication that Feinstein and Harris objected to Lee.

However, Graham bucked tradition and proceeded with the hearing, angering the senators. “Around here,” warned Feinstein, “what goes around, comes around.”

Despite objections from Harris and Feinstein, it appears that a vote on Lee’s nomination will go forward.

The reason there are so many openings on the bench is because the GOP dominated Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, stalled or refused to hold hearings on scores of Obama nominees including Merrick Garland, his  choice to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February of 2016.

After Trump was elected, the Senate — still dominated by the Republicans —  has approved a record number of judges nominated by Trump successfully leaning the judiciary to the right.

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