Trump’s Sixth Circuit Nominees are Dangerous for Ohio — and America
By Elliot Mincberg, Senior Fellow, People For the American Way
On June 7, President Trump nominated far-right lawyers Chad Readler and Eric Murphy for lifetime seats on Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. And like Trump’s last Supreme Court pick Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Readler and Murphy are far-right extremists who have both taken alarming actions to do Trump’s bidding on issues like voting rights and health care. Their actions and ideological views on those issues make clear precisely how they would rule against Ohioans from the bench, and warrant defeat of their nominations.
Just days after Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court last Saturday following a weeks-long chaotic confirmation process, Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley wasted no time moving forward other troubling judicial nominations, and held confirmation hearings for Readler, currently Acting Attorney General for the Department of Justice Civil Division and Murphy, Ohio’s State Solicitor General on Oct. 10. Democratic Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown stated his opposition to both nominees soon after Trump nominated them, saying that they have “actively worked to strip Ohioans of their rights,” but as with Kavanaugh, Chairman Grassley and Senate Republicans advanced both nominations regardless of their fitness for the job. If they are as successful confirming these nominees, the well-being of nearly 33 million Americans who reside in Sixth Circuit states — Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee — would be in jeopardy.
Eric Murphy’s recent defense of Ohio’s purge of more than a million inactive voters from the voter rolls offers just one example of how he actively supports Trump’s agenda. One objective of the Trump-Sessions Department of Justice is limiting the right to vote, particularly for low-income and minority voters. According to documents that People For the American Way uncovered under the Freedom of Information Act, Murphy helped the Justice Department reverse its position in the case; with Murphy’s assistance, Trump’s Justice Department reconsidered the issue and argued that the purge was legal under federal law. When the Supreme Court heard the case, its ultra-conservative Court majority agreed in a narrow 5–4 margin.
As a top political appointee in the Jeff Sessions Department of Justice, Chad Readler has taken even more extraordinary action to execute Trump’s priorities. He has been called the “architect” of the latest effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and his involvement offers a prime example of Readler advancing Trump’s executive priorities. Although the courts have rejected challenges to the ACA since it passed in 2010, several states filed yet another federal lawsuit in Texas attempting to overturn the law.
The DOJ’s Civil Division typically defends federal laws under attack, but with Readler at the helm, they didn’t just refuse to defend the law, they filed a brief urging the court to invalidate the ACA’s critical insurance reforms — including the requirement that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions, which has been especially crucial in saving lives and keeping families from financial ruin. Readler, two of his political appointees, and an attorney who joined DOJ in April were the only DOJ attorneys who signed the brief. Even Republicans have opposed the bill. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander called DOJ’s argument “as far-fetched as any I’ve ever heard.” Three veteran career DOJ attorneys withdrew from the case due to that extreme action, with one later resigning. The day after Murphy filed the brief, Trump announced his nomination.
Some may view Readler’s and Murphy’s nominations as rewards from the Trump White House for doing its bidding. That alone is egregious enough. But what’s worse is the concern that as powerful federal judges with lifetime appointments, they will continue to uphold dangerous abuses of power — regardless of the cost to the people of the states covered by the Sixth Circuit and to all Americans — rather than demonstrate the independence and impartiality we expect from federal judges.
Especially after Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, it couldn’t be more urgent to ensure that our judges at every judiciary level are unbiased and fair-minded. Senator Brown attempted to work with the White House to find conservative choices they could agree on, but the White House insisted on two lawyers they could trust to carry out their agenda.
Under our Constitution, choosing federal judges for lifetime seats is a shared responsibility of the president and the Senate. Especially when a president will not consult in good faith with a home state senator, the Senate has the right and responsibility to decide not to confirm his nominees. Senator Brown has made clear that he cannot vote to confirm Readler or Murphy, who have “actively worked to strip Ohioans of their rights.” The Senate should reject these nominations, and insist that the White House work with both Ohio senators to find appropriate nominees for these Sixth Circuit seats.