Two Democratic appointees to federal appeals courts expressed reluctance to retire during President Donald Trump’s administration, claiming the president has not fielded impressive judicial nominees.
Two unnamed judges told BuzzFeed News that they have concerns about the temperament of Trump’s judicial candidates, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of his nominees attained approving reviews from legal trade associations.
One circuit judge claimed Trump’s nominees lack the qualifications necessary for judicial service.
“Given the caliber of nominees I’m seeing, I’m not comfortable creating a spot that might be filled by someone consistent with the qualifications, or lack of qualifications, of some of the folks I’ve seen nominated,” the judge said. The judge is eligible to assume senior status, a quasi-retirement under which aging judges may leave active service but still participate in a handful of cases.
Another circuit judge accused the president of “blatantly politicizing” the courts, as they expressed anxiety about Trump’s agenda.
“This president is someone who I am just so anxious about what he might do and also the quality of some of the nominees, some of whom have now withdrawn,” the judge said. “That makes it a greater concern for me than if it were a different president who happened to be Republican but was making wise decisions with respect to the judiciary and wasn’t so blatantly politicizing it.”
Both judges were appointed by Democratic presidents, according to BuzzFeed News.
Many judges, especially at the circuit court level, have ideological loyalties to certain legal principles or modes of interpretation, and schedule retirement so as to ensure they are succeeded by a like-minded jurist. Still, the statements are fairly remarkable, as judges rarely interact with the press, especially concerning a topic as sensitive and politically fraught as retirement.
The remarks are also surprising in that most of the president’s judicial nominees have earned the approval of the American Bar Association (ABA), a powerful trade group that vets candidates for the federal bench. Of Trump’s 58 nominees, 54 secured “qualified” or “well qualified” ratings from the association’s standing committee on the judiciary. Trump’s circuit court appointees in particular have fared well under ABA scrutiny — 15 of his 18 nominees obtained “well qualified” ratings.
Studies suggest that the ABA, which supports a number of progressive social causes, tends to favor Democratic appointees, though the group insists its vetting process is scrupulously non-partisan.
The administration has recently enduring several embarrassing nomination blunders, however. Three nominees withdrew from consideration in December over concerns about experience and temperament. FEC Commissioner Andrew Petersen, a nominee for the federal trial court in Washington, D.C., withdrew after failing to answer basic questions about trial procedure during his confirmation hearing. Jeff Mateer and Brett Talley, nominees for trial courts in Texas and Alabama, also withdrew given their histories of inflammatory rhetoric on social issues.
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