Why courts matter: The consequences of judicial appointments

Kadida Kenner, campaign planner from Why Courts Matter PA, gave a lecture on Oct. 23, in the Henry Student Center Ballroom on the importance of the federal judiciary and how it affects our daily lives.

Kenner graduated from Temple University and attended Lincoln University. She is a journalist by trade, and before working with Why Courts Matter PA she used to work for ESPN producing football and basketball games.

The lecture focused on the ramifications of judicial appointments, current federal court vacancies, and appointments that have occurred under President Donald Trump’s administration.

“No president has been as successful at appointing judges than Trump has,” said Kenner.

Trump has appointed two Supreme Court justices during his three years in office: Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. There is a possibility that he could appoint three more, as Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Clarence Thomas are aged 86 and 71 respectively, and Sonia Sotomayor was recently diagnosed with diabetes. Kenner said that of the three, Thomas is the most likely to abdicate within the next year.

Kenner said that no president should have that kind of power when it comes to judicial appointments as Supreme Court justices serve for life. The average amount of Justices that presidents appoint are around two, and the last time more than two were appointed was four during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Article III federal judges are usually appointed for life. They are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Aside from the Supreme Court, they serve in the 13 U.S. courts of appeal and the 94 U.S. district courts.

“This is the third time that I have seen her,” explained Dr. Andrew Wilczak, associate professor of sociology. “I would say the most important thing [from the lecture] is that the judges matter. Those people get into those positions typically through a series of elections. So when you’re voting for a judge at a small level place, you should research that person’s background.”

Why Courts Matter PA has worked to prevent numerous appointments of unqualified nominations. Their latest campaign is against Stephen Menashi, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. According to Kenner, he has worked to strip away protections for students, sexual assault survivors, LGBTQ people and people of color. She noted this is an issue because justices are supposed to be apolitical and need to look at the Constitution instead of their personal beliefs. As of this issue, he currently faces bipartisan opposition from both Republicans and Democrats.

The nomination of Jonathan A. Kobes to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit was the first federal judicial nominee ever confirmed by a tie-breaking vote by the Vice President. Kenner stated that judicial appointments should be passed with overwhelming majorities, as there should be no question as to the qualifications of the nominees.

“A lot of it, to someone who actively keeps up with politics, wasn’t really new to me,” said Gregory Chang, senior political science major. “Some of the finer details, like specific judges and their qualifications, really reinforced to me that we need to be more involved politically to prevent unqualified people from making tough decisions for us.”

Kenner also stated that many of the judges that the Trump administration has appointed are predominantly corporate attorneys and not public defenders.

“It’s important to pay attention to who you’re voting for, even for a judge at the local level. If you think about it, the federal level has massive effects nationwide. Judges in smaller courts and local courts have effects in those specific regions. Those judges can get promoted up the chain and one day eventually be a federal level or even a Supreme Court Justice,” said Wilczak.

Why Courts Matter PA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization and a coalition of more than 40 organizational partners who work together to educate the public about the importance of filling federal court vacancies with fair, independent and qualified judges of diverse personal and professional backgrounds.