Is it too soon to start a conversation about 2020? Perhaps no other election, with the exception of 2016, is poised to have a greater effect on our federal bench. The re-election of President Trump would allow him four more years of filling the bench with young conservatives, while the election of a Democratic president would stall that trend. For many progressives, however, what they want is not a pause in the appointment of conservative judges but rather an active effort to move the federal bench in a liberal direction. As such, let us look at the leading (and lagging) contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination, and what their records on judges are.
We previously looked at the 2020 candidates who have experience as governors and as senators. Today we look at those who do not fall into either camp. Obviously, it is difficult to build up a record on judicial matters if you have neither appointed judges nor voted on them. Nevertheless, we look at the remaining contenders and their public stances (if any) on judicial matters. Most, if not all, of the contenders in this category have not spoken out on judges and have a thin record on this front.
Abrams, a Georgia state legislative leader who narrowly lost the 2018 gubernatorial election in the state, is, funnily enough, the sister of a federal judge, Judge Leslie Abrams of the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Georgia. Regarding other nominations, Abrams came out against the nomination of Thomas Farr in December, which ultimately fell short of a vote.
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is currently planning a run for President in 2020, either as a Democrat or as an Independent. Unlike other candidates in this category, Bloomberg had the opportunity to appoint judges, namely, municipal judges to the New York City Criminal Court, Civil Court and the Family Court. However, Bloomberg’s appointments to these courts have made few waves and do not reveal much about his judicial views.
Outside of his role as mayor, Bloomberg is primarily known for his advocacy on gun control, as well as his support for the New York stop and frisk policy.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the youngest candidate in the 2020 Presidential race, and is the only openly gay candidate. However, Buttigieg’s largely local pedigree has left him little room to develop positions on judicial issues, and he has been silent on such issues since announcing.
Julian Castro is the only Hispanic candidate who has currently announced a bid for President, and, with experience leading San Antonio, one of the Nation’s largest cities, and heading the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he has the experience in an executive role.
That being said, Castro has been virtually invisible on the issue of judges, with virtually no formal statements on the issue.
Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney was the first major Democrat to announce for the 2020 Presidential camapign. Despite fairly detailed positions on many major issues, Delaney has largely been silent on judicial issues, with no mention of judicial nominations on his campaign site.
Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is, perhaps, one of the most polarizing candidates in the 2020 race. On one side, Gabbard is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and was one of the strongest supporters for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016. On the other, she has been criticized for her lack of support on LGBT issues, and her demagoguery on such issues in the past.
Particularly notoriously, Gabbard wrote an op-ed criticizing Democratic Senators (including fellow Presidential candidate Kamala Harris) for probing judicial nominee Brian Buescher over his membership in the Knights of Columbus, arguing that their questions constituted religious bias. While Gabbard did note that she herself opposed Buscher’s nomination, her position nonetheless brought pushback from fellow Hawaii Democrats.
The former West Virginia State Senator and unsuccessful Congressional candidate does not have a section on judges on his Presidential campaign website.
Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke ran a surprisingly strong Senate campaign in 2018, falling just narrowly short of Sen. Ted Cruz despite running in strongly Republican Texas. During the campaign, O’Rourke opined on the pending Kavanaugh nomination, wishing that there had been more focus on Kavanaugh’s judicial positions during the confirmation battle. O’Rourke has said little about Trump’s other judicial nominations, however, including many appointed to Texas courts. Interestingly, O’Rourke’s strong campaign nonetheless propelled many Texas judicial candidates to victory, flipping many courts across the state to Democrats.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan has been planning a run for President since mid-2018, even as he led an aborted coup against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While Ryan has made a name for himself as a Pelosi opponent, he has been largely invisible on the issue of judicial nominations, although he did issue a statement opposing the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
Swalwell has served in the U.S. House since his election in 2012 and currently serves on the House Judiciary Committee (which, unlike its senate counterpart, has no role in judicial confirmations). In 2018, Swalwell came out strongly against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court.