Black leaders are alarmed at the prospect that President Donald J. Trump is seeking a federal judiciary lacking in diversity. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), under its judicial nominations working group, chaired by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), held a forum on Jan. 9 examining the lack of diversity among President Trump’s picks to the federal judiciary.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who chairs the CBC judicial nominations working group, said it is part of the president’s job to shape a diverse Federal bench. (Courtesy photo)

A recent study by the Congressional Research Service noted Trump is nominating judges at a much faster rate than his predecessors. More than 90 percent of his nominees have been White, a higher percentage of White judges than any president in 30 years, and that bothers Norton.

“A president’s most lasting impact on the nation is often the shaping of the federal bench, whose decisions are difficult to reverse,” Norton, a recognized Constitutional scholar in her own right, said. “The courts have been the most important institution for African Americans in gaining their rights in our country. The CBC has an obligation to examine the federal judiciary in preparation for seeking changes from the Trump administration.”

The forum took place on the eve of Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) being named to the Senate Judiciary Committee by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). The selections were the result of Al Franken leaving the Senate last year due to a sexual harassment scandal. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the chairman of the CBC, praised the appointments.

“Sen. Booker and Sen. Harris, two great attorneys who are committed to 21st century criminal justice reform, were appointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee, becoming the second and third African Americans to serve on the committee in its 200-plus-year history.”

Booker and Harris will vote on Trump’s nominees, who have so far been largely White. The Congressional Research Service analysis of the last three presidents’ nominees to the federal bench their first year shows that Presidents Bill Clinton’s picks were 72.3 percent, George W. Bush’s were 86.2 percent and Barack Obama’s were 48.5 percent while Trump’s were 91.2 percent White.

As of Jan., 11, the Senate has confirmed 23 federal judges including one to the U.S. Supreme Court, 10 U.S. District Court judges and 12 for the U.S. Courts of Appeals.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a participant in Norton’s event, said Trump’s heavy favoritism towards Whites is disturbing.

“President Trump has only nominated two women of color,” Gupta said. “In fact, Trump has replaced at least 10 of Obama’s nominees of color with White nominees. Bringing diverse experiences and perspectives to the bench allows judges to make better informed decisions and increases public confidence in our justice system.”

Gupta used the example of the Eastern District Court of North Carolina as an example of Trump’s preferences towards Whites, particularly White males. She said that two Black females were nominated by President Obama to fill district court vacancies, Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, but they were denied a hearing by the U.S. Senate. Trump, said Gupta, nominated Thomas Farr, a White male who had strong ties to the late conservative senator, Jesse Helms, to the position. Gupta said that nominees such as Farr must be fought and exposed to the public.

Johnny Barnes, a civil rights attorney in the District of Columbia and the former head of the city’s ACLU, told the AFRO that he too is troubled by Trump’s high percentage of Whites on the federal judiciary.

“It would seem that this is in line with Trump’s policies trying to exclude people of color,” Barnes said. “He is using the judiciary in that way. There is an unspoken view among some Whites that others are trying to take over and he has bought into that.”

Barnes said that unlike President Reagan, who nominated a lot of conservatives to the federal bench during his term from 1981-1989, Reagan was a “conservative in the truest sense while Trump is a racist in the truest sense.”

Barnes said that people of goodwill must fight Trump’s “attempt to stack the judiciary to save White people. We must stand up and speak out. If not, he can be more impactful than Reagan.”