It was a startling omission, even according to the peculiar moral norms of the Trump era. When Wendy Vitter, one of the US president’s judicial nominees, was asked whether she supported the supreme court’s 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision to end racial segregation in schools – a near sacred pillar of progress for civil rights in the 20th century – she did not say yes.
“I don’t mean to be coy,” Vitter, who is up for a seat on the US district court for the eastern district of Louisiana, told her Senate confirmation hearing. “But I think I get into a difficult area when I start commenting on supreme court decisions which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with.”
If approved, Vitter, currently the general counsel of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of New Orleans and an opponent of abortion rights, would join a wave of lifetime appointments that threatens to fundamentally tilt the balance of America’s courts – and embolden conservative activists to bring cases that once seemed lost causes.
With just over a year in office, Donald Trump has already appointed 21 of America’s 167 current circuit judges and intends to fill an additional 20 or more vacancies by the end of the year. He is far outpacing Barack Obama, whose 21st circuit court nominee was approved 33 months into his presidency amid gridlock in Congress. Seventeen of Trump’s nominees for district courts, most of whom replaced Democratic appointees, have also been approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.