In what has become an all-too-familiar development, President Donald Trump has nominated, and the Republican-led Senate has approved, a new federal judge despite a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. Having won Senate confirmation Wednesday, attorney Sarah E. Pitlyk will sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, based in St. Louis. At the end of the month, she will replace the eminently qualified District Judge Catherine Perry, who is entering semi-retirement.
Pitlyk has zero trial experience. What she does have are deep ties to conservative activist organizations and an anti-reproductive-rights philosophy so radical she has even argued against public access to fertility treatments.
It’s one thing for Trump and Senate Republicans to embark on a campaign to mold the federal bench in their ideological image for a generation to come; if Democrats held the White House and the Senate, they’d be doing the same thing. But it’s unconscionable to mold that future with jurists who are, even by nonpartisan standards, unqualified and radical.
In President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, he never nominated a single person to a federal judicial seat who had been slapped with a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association, the premier professional organization for attorneys. In Trump’s three years in office so far, he has nominated nine such unqualified judges — four of whom were so unqualified that they failed to win confirmation even with a Republican Senate. Pitlyk is the fifth to make it to the bench despite the judgment of her professional colleagues that she doesn’t belong there.
Senate Republicans claim the nonpartisan ABA harbors a liberal bias — a rich claim, given that Trump has effectively outsourced his judicial vetting process to the conservative Federalist Society.
The facts, the ABA argued, are these: Pitlyk “has never tried a case … has never examined a witness … has not taken a deposition … has never picked a jury … has never participated at any stage of a criminal matter.”
What she has done is argued in briefs that when desperate couples seek to have babies through surrogacy or in vitro fertilization, it creates “grave effects on society, such as diminished respect for motherhood.”
Unsuccessful Trump nominees have included a paranormal investigator, an attorney who described transgender children as part of “Satan’s plan,” and a 36-year-old lawyer who withdrew after being unable to answer basic legal questions for the Senate.
No one could reasonably expect Trump to pass up the chance to nominate conservative judges while he can, but why so many utterly lacking in basic judicial qualifications?
Elections have consequences, as the saying goes. A consequence of four more years of the GOP’s lock on the federal bench won’t just mean additional radical conservative judges — it will mean additional unqualified ones.