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How Conservative are Trump’s Federal Court Nominees? We Rate Them


President Donald Trump recently released his first slate of judicial nominees–conveniently limiting his first tranche to 10 easily-digestible appointments. What follows is a ranking of those nominees on the inaugural edition of LawNewz’s judicial “conserv-o-meter”. Candidates are ranked on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being Potentially Anthony Kennedy (least conservative but still right of center) and 10 being the Protagonist in a Ben Shapiro legal novelette (most conservative).

  • Dabney L. Friedrich, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — Friedrich was originally appointed to the U.S. Sentencing Commission by George W. Bush and renominated to the same position by Barack Obama. Dabney’s pedigree is truly non-partisan and her appeal to Presidents from both parties speaks to her keen legal mind as well as a potential openness to change. Call it a tendency towards progress or just the application of common sense in her role as a judge.

    Dabney rates a four (4) on the conserv-o-meter.

  • David C. Nye, nominated to the U.S. District Court for Idaho — Nye was originally tapped by Obama to fill the same position though never confirmed due to GOP intransigence. Nye is likely a straight-shooting Idahoan moderate picked to suit the flavor of the court he was chosen for. Expect few, if any, waves from this pick.

    Nye rates a solid middling five (5) on the conserv-o-meter.

  • Scott L. Palk, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma — Palk was originally nominated by Obama to the same vacancy but, again, never confirmed, even though both of Idaho’s Republican senators supported him. Expect his opinions to be fairly middle-of-the-road and not particularly novel. And while re-nominating any Obama picks could be seen as evidence of the mythical New York liberal coming out of Trump, Palk’s legal history suggests a judge more in line with Obama’s cautious moderation than Trump’s fabled latent liberalism.

    Palk rates a five (5) on the conserv-o-meter.

  • Amy Coney Barrett, nominated to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago — Barrett previously clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia, so she’s likely to have movement conservatives’ hearts a-flutter at “Hello.” A distinguished law professor at Notre Dame, Barrett’s got the perfect resume for the right. And though no judicial opinions exist for anyone to say for sure how she’ll decide any given case, her legal research has been praised by the Federalist Society–a hint that’s fairly easy to discern.

    Barrett rates an eight (8) on the conserv-o-meter.

  • Joan Larsen, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit — Larsen clerked for Justice Scalia and was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court by the state’s Republican Governor, Rick Snyder. A bit of a blank slate, maybe; conservatives are frequently concerned about so-called stealth candidates after Justices Souter and Kennedy–both nominated by Republican Presidents–proved to be far more liberal than movement conservatism can abide. Her public statements, however, suggest an aversion to judicial activism that conservatives can rally behind.

    Larsen rates a seven (7) on the conserv-o-meter.

  1. David Stras, nominated to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — Stras previously clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas, widely considered the Supreme Court’s most conservative member. Currently serving as an elected Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Stras saw fit to publish a glowing eulogy to Antonin Scalia when the arch-conservative Justice passed away in 2016. With an extensive record of constitutional originalism and, at 42, the youngest of Trump’s nominees, Stras has the bona fides and youth so coveted by the conservative movement when it comes to judicial appointments.

    Stras rates a nine (9) on the conserv-o-meter.

  2. Damien M. Schiff, nominated to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims — Schiff is presently the Principal Attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is considered the oldest libertarian public interest law firm in the country. Schiff went head-to-head with the EPA in front of the Supreme Court and won, striking a blow for property owners against arbitrary agency enforcement actions. In Schiff, libertarians will find an ally who is a proven foe of the administrative state, though conservatives could occasionally be frustrated by that same decidedly libertarian streak.

    Schiff rates a seven (7) on the conserv-o-meter.

  3. Kevin Newsom, nominated to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta — Newsom previously clerked for Justice David Souter, a liberal Justice, but also served a stint clerking for Diarmuid O’Scannlain, one of the few conservative judges on the extremely liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Considered one of the nation’s top appeals attorneys, Newsom brings a brilliant legal mind to the position, though his cross-party appeal might give conservatives pause, he was once featured on the Federalist Society’s official podcast.

    Newsom rates a six (6) on the conserv-o-meter.

  4. Terry F. Moorer, nominated to the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Alabama — Moorer is presently a Magistrate Judge in Alabama, a position he’s held since 2007. Though little is known about Moorer’s takes on hot-button topics, his experience as a prosecutor targeting major narcotics traffickers as well as being an Iraq War veteran should alleviate any conservative concerns.

    Moorer rates a six (6) on the conserv-o-meter.

  5. John K. Bush, nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from Kentucky  — Bush leads his local chapter of the Federalist Society, the arch-conservative organization leading the fight for an originalist interpretation of the constitution and whose members can frequently be heard expressing extreme disdain for judicial activism. A member of Reagan’s defense team during the Iran-Contra scandal, Bush is a solid and loyal conservative. Plus, the Federalist Society is the legal equivalent of the “Trad Cath” movement, so anyone holding a leadership position there will allow conservatives to enjoy the soundest of sleep.

    Bush rates an easy ten (10) on the conserv-o-meter.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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