The Trump Administration Continues to Pack the Courts. We Continue to Fight.

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November 7, 2019
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by Lambda Legal's incoming CEO Kevin Jennings

I’m a masochist of sorts, I guess. That is the only plausible explanation for the fact that I subscribe to the official White House email newsletter.

That came in handy, in as much as anything one gets from this White House is “handy,” as I prepared for my first event as Lambda Legal’s new CEO.
Just before I arrived at the event, my phone pinged, and an email came through, entitled “158 Judges... and Counting!”

In this highly-disturbing missive, the Trump Administration bragged about its takeover of the American judiciary, offering factoids like these (and these are direct quotes):

  • President Trump’s nominees alone fill one-quarter of the seats on our nation’s Circuit Courts of Appeals.
  • His nominees fill two of the nine powerful seats on America’s Supreme Court.
  • He has seen more Circuit Court judges confirmed by this point in his presidency than any past president in United States history.

The email went on to say: “In just three years, President Trump has nominated and had confirmed two Supreme Court justices, 44 Circuit Court judges, and 112 District Court judges. Today, that historic pace is only accelerating: The President is set to have more judges confirmed this year alone than in all of 2017 and 2018 combined.”

This news chilled me, as it did those with whom I shared it at a gathering of Lambda Legal supporters in Chicago. And it should have. Judicial appointments are lifetime appointments, meaning that, decades after Trump is gone, we at Lambda Legal will still be contending with his legacy on the benches of the courts of our nation. The judicial landscape is shifting dramatically against us, and the consequences for our community are likely to be dire.
That legacy, so dire for us, is no doubt a source of joy for our opponents. They know exactly what they are doing. Having stacked the judiciary, they have begun executing a sophisticated, multi-pronged litigation strategy aimed at rolling back all of the gains we’ve so painstakingly won over the past four decades since Lambda Legal’s founding. Like Cher, they want to turn back time.

They’d like to go back to the days when LGBTQ people had few (if any) legal rights at all.

All of this makes it a daunting moment to assume the helm at Lambda Legal. We are going to have to be more strategic and inventive than ever before to cope with the increasingly hostile landscape in which we are being forced to operate.

But we are more than up to the challenge. Lambda Legal has persevered through difficult historical moments before, and we will persevere here as well. We continue to join forces with our sister organizations to challenge the problematic and frankly unqualified nominees that this administration insists on putting forward, and have succeeded in blocking a few. Just this week, we are fighting the nominations of Steven Menashi and Lawrence VanDyke, yet two more unqualified and dangerous nominees that the Republican leadership is intent on forcing through.

And we continue, notwithstanding a more hostile judicial climate, to win case after case, protecting transgender workers seeking employment protection and access to medically necessary health care, transgender servicemembers who seek only to serve their country, and married same-sex couples, as well as same-sex widows and widowers, seeking only equal access to the benefits and protections married different-sex couples enjoy.

I marched in my first Pride in Boston in 1986 — 33 years ago. Many in our community have been marching even longer. I know we all agree we have not fought this hard for this long and come this far to let our opponents take it all away from us now.

We are in this fight for the long haul and I am confident that, as Martin Luther King Jr. once famously remarked, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”