Pres­i­dent’s un­fit picks

San Francisco Chronicle - - OPINION -

Brett Ta­ley is no house­hold name, but his nom­i­na­tion to the fed­eral bench should get the no­tice it de­serves. He’s never tried a case, and, oops, he for­got to men­tion his wife is chief of staff to the White House’s top lawyer. He’s blogged about “Hil­lary Rot­ten Clin­ton” and ac­cused gun foes of ex­ploit­ing mass shoot­ings.

His nom­i­na­tion sounds far-fetched: a hard-right lawyer with zero trial ex­pe­ri­ence and blessed with in­side con­nec­tions. But he’s also an apt in­di­ca­tor of the course of Pres­i­dent Trump’s ju­di­cial over­haul.

The di­rec­tion couldn’t be clearer. De­spite his lapses and losses, the pres­i­dent is strid­ing to­ward a re­make of the fed­eral ju­di­ciary that could last for decades. He’s rub­ber-stamp­ing a list of can­di­dates sup­plied by con­ser­va­tive le­gal groups who prize ide­ol­ogy above di­ver­sity or bal­ance.

Trump is cash­ing in at a prime mo­ment. Ma­jor­ity Repub­li­cans blocked Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s nom­i­nees dur­ing his final year in of­fice, swelling the num­bers of un­filled va­can­cies. Democrats had weak­ened their hand by dump­ing de­bate rules once used to block con­tro­ver­sial names.

An As­so­ci­ated Press sur­vey found the Trump is ap­point­ing white males at the high­est rate in 30 years. Though Obama moved to di­ver­sify the bench, Trump is head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, pick­ing fewer women and non­whites than even prior GOP pres­i­dents. He’s also ig­nor­ing the role tra­di­tion­ally played by the Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion in vet­ting nom­i­nees. The Trump team isn’t in­clud­ing bar rat­ings in mea­sur­ing ap­pointees, claiming the group is too lib­eral to mat­ter.

To the win­ner go the spoils, Trump de­fend­ers ar­gue. Vot­ers are get­ting the change promised by a suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

But that ar­gu­ment won’t pa­per over the schism the pres­i­dent is build­ing into the court sys­tem. By in­sert­ing scores of ide­o­logues, he’s cre­at­ing a war zone akin the deep trenches that di­vide Congress. Pub­lic trust is di­min­ished when the bench doesn’t mir­ror so­ci­ety or a broad range of be­liefs.

Democrats are left in a bind. The mi­nor­ity party in the Se­nate could once fil­i­buster a nom­i­nee from win­ning ap­proval. But that power ended, leav­ing Trump op­po­nents with the power to only de­nounce a pend­ing judge. Some of Trump’s ap­pointees demon­strate con­tempt for the no­tion of a qual­i­fied and in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary.

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