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Beyond SCOTUS: Federal Court Appointees Affecting Workers' Rights

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U.S. appellate judges heard nearly 60,000 cases in 2017. (Joe Wolf/Flickr)
U.S. appellate judges heard nearly 60,000 cases in 2017. (Joe Wolf/Flickr)
August 28, 2018

SEATTLE — U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will begin confirmation hearings next week. But one legal expert says President Donald Trump already has made a big impact on the judiciary - and workers' rights are hurting for it.

Trump has far outpaced previous presidents at this point in his presidency with 26 appointments to the U.S. Court of Appeals. His nominees make up 1-in-7 judges on these courts nationwide.

Larry Shannon, government affairs director with the Washington State Association for Justice, said these lower court judges are bound to follow recent Supreme Court rulings that have hurt workers, including allowing forced arbitration and the Janus decision on unions.

"Assuming that Kavanaugh gets confirmed, I'm not sure how much it changes what is already a very dramatic slide towards putting corporate rights, for instance, over everything else,” Shannon said. “We've already started down that road."

Shannon noted appellate judges nationwide hear a lot of cases - nearly 60,000 in 2017. In comparison, the Supreme Court typically hears about 80 each year. While Trump has appointed a large number of appellate court judges, as well as Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, he lags behind past presidents for district court appointees.

Shannon said it's not just the Trump administration affecting the judiciary. The U.S. Senate has streamlined the process for appointing federal judges. Shannon said this could be thought of as a political decision, but more important is the fact that some of these candidates appear to be unqualified.

"You could speculate, is it political or not? Probably is. But what you can say, I think with certainty, is it's a question of, 'Are these the best people we can find to do these jobs?’” he said. “And in my view, consistently we're seeing too many of them where the answer is no, they are not."

Last week, the American Bar Association rated one of Trump's district court nominees "unqualified" - the fourth judge picked by the president to earn such a rating. Before Trump's presidency, the ABA had not rated a district court nominee unqualified since 2005.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA