Voter suppression in Texas is made possible by Trump's judges

Voter suppression in Texas is made possible by Trump's judges
© Martin Holverda via iStock

Earlier this month, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Governor Greg Abbott’s order to limit the number of drop off locations for mail-in ballots to one per county. Harris County had planned for 12 drop-off locations, which were already too few locations for a county our size. But now we will see that number cut to one. Chris Hollins, the Harris County Clerk, called the Abbott order “prejudicial and dangerous.”

As a Texan, it’s disappointing that we’ve come to expect these kinds of attacks on voting rights from our governor. In recent years, we’ve seen the forced closure of polling places, the criminalization of voting, and a failed purge of the voter rolls. But now we face a new obstacle: federal judges — groomed by conservative ideologues — who are intent on stripping us of our most basic rights.

Trump’s theft of the judiciary hasn’t gotten the coverage or attention it deserves. All three judges — Judges Kyle Duncan, Don Willett, and James Ho — who ruled in favor of Abbott’s voter suppression plan were appointed by Trump. To date, Trump has appointed over 200 new judges to the federal bench, including more than one-third of the judges serving on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump’s heist of the federal courts may well be his enduring legacy.

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The common thread that links Trump’s judicial picks is their experience representing large and powerful institutions. The vast majority have worked as corporate lawyers, prosecutors, or government officials. This holds true with Judges Duncan, Willett, and Ho, all of whom spent key parts of their legal career in the Texas Attorney General’s Office or the U.S. Department of Justice. As a point of contrast, the number of civil rights attorneys, public defenders, and advocates for the people that Trump has appointed can be counted on one hand.

The confirmation of Duncan to the Fifth Court of Appeal was forcefully opposed by a coalition of over 200 national organizations, who described Duncan as someone who has “devoted his legal career to undermining civil and constitutional rights in America.” They cite Duncan’s defense of North Carolina’s voter suppression law passed in 2013, immediately after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder and his support of voter ID laws in Texas.

“One strains to see how it burdens voting at all,” wrote Duncan in his Monday night ruling, rejecting concerns that Governor Abbott’s order could suppress voters and confirming our worst fears. 

Protecting voting rights will demand more than just legislation. We need to appoint judges with the right kind of experience and background. If former Vice President Biden wins in November, he should commit to appointing the most diverse judiciary in history made up not of corporate lawyers and prosecutors, but of civil rights attorneys, public defenders, immigrant rights lawyers, and others with direct experience representing those who have been most harmed by our current systems.

Millions of voters will experience first-hand the consequences of Trump’s disastrous judicial picks over the next few weeks. The next Democratic president needs to reverse the damage done by appointing a different kind of judiciary.

Rodney Ellis serves as Harris County Commissioner for Precinct One. For 26 years he represented Texas’s 13th State Senate District, passing over 700 pieces of legislation.