New Report Illuminates Trump’s Legacy of Radicalizing Federal Courts with Alarming Speed

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January 5, 2021
Courts, Confirmations & Consequences

In just four years, President Trump has ushered in a judicial landscape that is significantly more hostile toward LGBTQ+ people, with nearly 40% of Trump’s confirmed federal appellate judges having demonstrated anti-LGBTQ+ bias according to a new report released today by Lambda Legal. The new report — the culmination of a painstaking, four-year effort by Lambda Legal to meticulously track and monitor Trump’s judicial appointments and their impact on restructuring and reshaping the federal judiciary — provides for the first time a clear and complete snapshot of the outsized impact Trump has had on reshaping the courts. 


The report finds that in four years Trump has not only confirmed judges with alarming speed (faster than any other president in recent history), but has ultimately “whitewashed” the federal courts system by packing the bench with predominantly white male judges. 


Among the report’s top findings:


  • Nearly 40 percent of the federal judges that Trump has appointed to the courts of appeals have a demonstrated history of hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community – This reflects a commitment by President Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate to appointing and confirming anti-LGBTQ+ judges over the course of his presidency, notwithstanding public outcry over the dangerous records of these nominees.


  • Nearly 85 percent of all of Trump’s circuit court nominees were white and 80 percent were men, while none of his circuit court nominees were Black – representing an unprecedented whitewashing of the judicial system that has become significantly less diverse. Only two of Trump’s circuit court nominees were Latinx.  


  • Almost one-third of the circuit court judgeships are now Trump judges (54 out of 179) – on 9 of the country’s 12 circuit courts, Trump nominees makeup at least 25 percent of the active-duty (i.e., non-senior status) judges in that circuit. 


  • 85 percent of Trump’s circuit court nominees are or have been affiliated with the Federalist Society – an activist organization that advocates for a deeply conservative reading of the Constitution, and gives a platform to many anti-LGBTQ+ activists who have argued against marriage equality, fought nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ workers, and sought to strip away parental rights of same-sex parents. 


  • The Trump Administration has outpaced the last five administrations in number of appellate judges confirmed – the Trump Administration has confirmed fifty-four circuit court judges in four years, just one less than the Obama Administration had confirmed in eight years. This is nearly double the number of circuit court judges confirmed during the first term of Presidents Obama (30) and Clinton (30), and over 50 percent higher than the number of appellate court confirmations during the first terms of Presidents Reagan (33) and George W. Bush (35).  


“While Donald Trump’s presidency may be coming to end, his devastating impact on our federal courts will take decades to reverse,” said Kevin Jennings, CEO at Lambda Legal. “When the basic human rights of LGBTQ+ Americans are so often challenged in court, we cannot accept a judiciary stacked with judges who would disenfranchise these vulnerable groups. This report  should serve as a call to action for the incoming Biden Administration. To reverse the damage done by the outgoing administration, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris must commit to ensuring future nominees respect the dignity of all Americans, including those in the LGBTQ+ community. Lambda Legal will continue to fight, as we have for almost 50 years, for the full equality of all LGBTQ+ people, everyone living with HIV, and all Americans.”


Since Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, Lambda Legal has mounted an aggressive and painstaking four-year effort to meticulously monitor, track, document, and analyze the extent to which Trump’s influence over the federal judiciary would impact the lives of LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV. This report represents the culmination of those efforts.


The full report — “Courts, Confirmations, & Consequences: How Trump Restructured the Federal Judiciary and Ushered in a Climate of Unprecedented Hostility toward LGBTQ+ People and Civil Rights” — can be found on Lambda Legal’s website here.

Judicial Nominees