The senseless murder of George Floyd by a police officer highlighted the grave injustices of our criminal justice system. Floyd’s killing was widely condemned by lawmakers across the political spectrum, however, the voting records of Senate republicans tell a different story about where they stand on this issue. The Senate has confirmed scores of judges who have deeply troubling records when it comes to police misconduct and criminal justice issues.
Below are 15 Trump judges who, at the time of their confirmation, had taken troubling positions on police misconduct and criminal justice:
Campbell Barker (Eastern District of Texas) attempted to retry Jerry Hartfield, a man with an IQ of 51 who was unconstitutionally imprisoned for 32 years after his conviction was overturned. Barker also represented Texas in an attempt to execute an African-American defendant after a psychologist testified at trial that the defendant’s race made him statistically more likely to commit a violent crime.
Stephanos Bibas (Third Circuit) has advocated for corporal punishment, including “electric shocks,” forcing prisoners to join the military or work other “visibly demanding jobs [reminiscent of chain gangs,] which would satisfy the public that inmates were enduring the hard treatment that they earned.” He praised colonial era-punishments like public beatings and whippings. He also minimized racial disparities in the criminal justice system and stated that drug addiction was not a disease but rather something that people could choose to overcome.
Andrew Brasher (Middle District of Alabama; Eleventh Circuit) repeatedly defended death sentences that were struck down by the courts, including Florida’s unconstitutional law that allowed judges to overrule juries and impose the death penalty. He sought the death penalty for a defendant with mental illness despite the state’s failure to provide sufficient access to a competent psychiatrist as required under federal law, and also advocated for the position that children can be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Michael Brennan (Seventh Circuit) questioned the Exclusionary Rule, which prevents evidence obtained in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights from being admitted in court. Moreover, while Brennan was serving as a state trial court judge, the (Madison, Wisconsin) Capital Times noted that “Brennan was the judge who presided over one of the most blatant demonstrations of racial inequality in justice in Milwaukee County” in a case in which four young African-American men were heavily sentenced for a prank that involved letting the air out of vehicle tires.
Daniel Collins (Ninth Circuit) advocated for eliminating Miranda warnings and questioned the wisdom of Batson v. Kentucky, the seminal case prohibiting racial discrimination in jury selection. Collins filed amicus briefs defending police officers in an excessive force case and defended Chicago’s controversial loitering ordinance.
Allison Eid (Tenth Circuit), while on the Colorado Supreme Court, consistently ruled against the rights of criminal defendants and the accused. For example, she disagreed with the majority of the Colorado Supreme Court when it ruled to suppress evidence police officers obtained after brutally beating a man, breaking several bones in his face and hitting him repeatedly with a metal baton, when he said he didn’t want to answer the officers’ questions.
Neil Gorsuch (Supreme Court), while on the Tenth Circuit, consistently enabled constitutionally problematic convictions to stand. He held that a police officer was entitled to qualified immunity from an excessive force claim arising from his use of a stun gun, aimed at the victim’s head, that killed a young man. Gorsuch also reversed denial of qualified immunity, over a dissent, for an ATF agent who opened fire on a car and shot the driver in the head despite having nothing identifying him as an agent on his clothes or car. The individuals in the car fled because they believed they were being robbed. He has displayed disregard for the rights of people who are incarcerated by restricting inmates’ ability to join together as a class to vindicate their rights.
Britt Grant (Eleventh Circuit) defended purposeful racial discrimination in jury selection.
Gregory Katsas (D.C. Circuit) spoke approvingly of Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent in Dawson v. Delaware, where Thomas was the sole dissenter from an opinion that barred the state from introducing bad-character evidence at trial that had no relevance to the case; Thomas’s dissent in Hudson v. McMillan, where the Court held that prison guards using excessive force against prisoners constitutes cruel and unusual punishment; and Thomas’s dissent in Foucha v. Louisiana, where the Court held that a person found not guilty by reason of insanity cannot be held indefinitely on the grounds of “potential dangerousness” once no mental illness is present.
Brett Kavanaugh (Supreme Court), while on the D.C. Circuit, ruled for the police after they stopped, frisked, and non-consensually searched an African-American man who vaguely matched the description of an armed robber. The full D.C. Circuit overturned Kavanaugh’s decision.
Eric Murphy (Sixth Circuit) ridiculed Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Utah v. Strieff, 136 S.Ct. 2056 (2016) a Fourth Amendment case that allows evidence gleaned from unlawful searches to be introduced in court if the officer finds an outstanding arrest warrant. Sotomayor’s dissent discussed the decision’s likely effect on racial profiling and cited studies on racial equality. Murphy criticized the dissent’s focus on racial justice.
William McCrary Ray II (Northern District of Georgia) opposed a bill that would have “prohibit[ed] police from using race or ethnicity as the basis for a traffic stop.” He opposed a hate crime bill that would have authorized longer sentences and stiffer fines for people convicted of committing “an offense because of bias or prejudice.”
Neomi Rao (D.C. Circuit) proposed limiting constitutional protections for criminal defendants. Discussing Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), Rao explained her view that “Miranda exemplifies the recurring problem in criminal cases – promoting the dignity of the accused may greatly discount the dignity of the victims of crime.”
Chad Readler (Sixth Circuit) has advocated for subjecting children to the death penalty, which would be in violation of both Supreme Court precedent and norms recognized throughout the world. In an article titled, “Make Death Penalty for Youth Available Widely,” he argued that “children are growing up faster than at any time before” and “the execution of those who commit capital offenses at 16 or 17 does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.”
Amul Thapar (Sixth Circuit), while a district court judge, dismissed a case involving a pretrial detainee who died when the jail’s nurse, who knew about his illness, did not provide him with diabetic medication or emergency room care. Thapar’s ruling was overturned on appeal. He also ruled that federal courts cannot reduce a person’s sentence for time already served in a state prison, if the person has served that time while waiting for sentencing on the same charges. His ruling would have extended and maximized prison time for incarcerated people. The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, disagreed, and Thapar’s decision was vacated.