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Candidates Warnock & Ossoff "Vote GA Blue" Concert

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Soon after his victory, then President-elect Biden made an announcement destined to become a major game-changer.

He put out the call to the legal and civil rights advocacy community to bring him names: names of public defenders, civil rights attorneys, legal stars of wide-ranging professional and demographic diversity who should be nominated for federal judgeships.

It was a direct rebuke to the rollback of judicial diversity under the Trump administration, and with control of the Senate still undecided, it was aspirational.

And then Georgia happened.

Victories by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff flipped control of the Senate, and with it, the entire judicial nominations landscape. Ending Mitch McConnell’s death grip on the Senate means that Biden’s judicial nominees can be confirmed, and – even more importantly – that Biden has latitude to make inspiring and even innovative picks. Reshaping the nation’s courts is a huge opportunity to protect the health, safety, rights, and life of every person in the United States.

Georgia Democratic Nominees For Senate Rev. Warnock And Ossoff Attend Rally In Jonesboro

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For several decades, the far right has prioritized taking over the federal judiciary. We have all seen the tragic consequences of the Trump judges that Senate Republicans rubber-stamped: law enforcement officials are not held accountable for using deadly force against Black Americans; laws that make it harder for people of color to vote are upheld; people are denied access to legally protected health care, including abortion care; people who work for a living are prevented from effectively getting higher wages and better working conditions; burdens on the lives of immigrants are upheld; businesses that discriminate against employees are protected rather than held accountable; and much more.

We are in this perilous state because Republicans have controlled the Senate for the past six years. They blocked highly qualified judicial nominees during the Obama administration, then helped President Trump fill the nation’s courts with hard-right, often minimally qualified partisans dedicated to using the courts to enrich the wealthy and protect the powerful.

Because Republicans controlled the Senate, Trump had more circuit court judges confirmed in a single term than any president since Jimmy Carter, and almost as many as Obama had over his entire eight years. Nearly a third of active circuit court judges were put there by Trump and McConnell.

It will be a breath of fresh air to once again see the confirmation of qualified, fair-minded judges who come to the bench with a demonstrated commitment to civil and human rights. This will be one of the most important consequences of the Georgia elections.

This group hardly represents the rich diversity of America. In fact, Trump was the first president since Gerald Ford not to nominate any Black judges to the circuit courts.

The Seventh Circuit, which covers Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana, is a deeply disturbing example. When Obama was president, Republicans blocked a highly qualified and trailblazing Black woman named Myra Selby for that court. But McConnell let Trump fill that vacancy with Amy Coney Barrett, then confirmed his picks for an additional four vacancies on that court. As a result, there are no longer any Black judges serving on the Seventh Circuit.

The Eleventh Circuit, which comprises Georgia, Florida and Alabama, has also undergone a Trump transformation. When Trump took office, eight of the eleven active judges had been appointed by Democratic presidents. Four years later, Trump has named six of the court’s active judges—more than half.

Get Out The Vote Rally With Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock, And Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris

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The result in that Deep South, largely Black region has been gravely unjust rulings with heavily racist overtones—such as the one last year upholding Florida Republicans’ scheme to take away the right to vote of thousands of formerly incarcerated people. A similar switch has occurred in the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York, Vermont) and Third Circuit (Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania). Our organization, People For the American Way, has had a full-time job documenting and analyzing the dangerous rulings and opinions by Trump judges in our “Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” project.

But while the litany of harms is discouraging, the opportunities now are for transformational change. Desegregate the bench in the Seventh Circuit, which includes such diverse cities as Chicago, Milwaukee and Gary. Name someone who has dedicated their life to advancing equality, combating racism, and empowering the oppressed to the D.C. Circuit, for Merrick Garland’s soon-to-be vacated seat. Confirm judges to the district courts who will be a bulwark against the worst anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Black, anti-worker impulses of state legislatures emboldened by the Trump era.

It will be a breath of fresh air to once again see the confirmation of qualified, fair-minded judges who come to the bench with a demonstrated commitment to civil and human rights. This will be one of the most important consequences of the Georgia elections.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. During his tenure, he doubled the organization’s budget, grew its online activist base by hundreds of thousands and increased its number of donors eightfold, from 16,000 to 132,000. 


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