Democrats warn of 'captured' GOP court ahead of November election

Democrats warn of 'captured' GOP court ahead of November election
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are turning their focus to the courts ahead of November, warning that Republicans and President Trump have "captured" the federal judiciary.

The strategy comes as the courts have emerged as a lightning rod during the Trump administration that increasingly fires up Democratic voters in the wake of recent high-profile court battles. 

"Will it be an important issue in the campaign? Absolutely," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck Schumer84 mayors call for immigration to be included in reconciliation Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? MORE (D-N.Y.) said. "Average folks who see their rights being taken away by the courts, particularly on health care, are able to see what the courts are doing."

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Schumer added that the "hard right" had focused for decades on trying to remake the federal judiciary, saying "it's a plan that will really hurt the average American and we aim to both expose it and do whatever we can to stop it." 

Democrats on Wednesday released a 54-page report on how Republicans had "captured" the courts and detailing the impact Republicans have had on the court, with nearly 200 judicial nominees confirmed since President TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE took office in 2017.

"It is time for America to reckon with the reality that our courts are being captured. It is time for Americans to understand the extent of the apparatus pursuing this capture, and to understand who is behind the apparatus. It’s long past time to look behind the curtain. Nothing less than our democracy is at stake," Democrats wrote in the report. 

Democrats added in the report that "over the coming months" they would be trying to "shed light on the corruption and conflicts of interest now spreading around the Trump judiciary."

Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate passes bill to award congressional gold medal to first Black NHL player The glass ceiling that diverse Senate staff still face Here's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken MORE (Mich.), a member of Democratic leadership who helped spearhead the report, said that the courts are "not working on behalf of the American people." 

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"Our report shines a bright light on what's happening to the independence of our courts ... and why it's happening," she told reporters. 

The Senate Democratic report also targets Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony McCarthy, McConnell say they didn't watch Jan. 6 hearing MORE's (R-Ky.) work on confirming Trump's judicial nominees, accusing him of turning the chamber into a "conveyor belt" for getting court picks through the chamber. Because nominations only require a simple majority and Republicans hold 53 seats, Democrats are powerless to stop them if GOP senators remain united. 

Schumer, during the conference call with reporters, said that McConnell and Trump "have dedicated every ounce of their energy ... to packing the courts." 

Republicans have homed in on the federal judiciary since Trump took office, with McConnell saying that judicial nominees, especially influential circuit court picks, are his top priority. 

"As soon as we get back in session, we’ll start confirming judges again. We need to have hearings, and we need to confirm judges ... The pandemic will not prevent us from achieving that goal," McConnell said late last month

Judicial nominations have become increasingly partisan in the Senate in recent years. Democrats went "nuclear" in 2013 to nix the 60-vote filibuster for most judicial picks and all executive nominations.

Republicans in 2017 got rid of the same hurdle for Supreme Court picks. In 2019 they deployed the nuclear option for a second time to cut down on the amount of time it takes to confirm most executive nominees and district court nominations.

Senate GOP leadership staff on Wednesday blasted out a release to reporters calling the Senate Democratic report "Schumer's Supreme Hypocrisy" because a former Schumer staffer runs an outside group, Demand Justice, that advocates for reforms to the Supreme Court, including calling for expanding the number of justices. 

But the report from Senate Democrats earned them praise from Demand Justice and other outside group allies. 

"Trump, McConnell, and their fellow Republicans are colluding with corporations, the wealthy, and the powerful to hijack our Courts. Senate Democrats are fighting back against these #CapturedCourts," Demand Justice tweeted on Wednesday.