One of the top progressive judicial groups is diving into campaign politics, purchasing online ads in early primary states attacking Democrats who’ve gone wobbly on Donald Trump’s court nominees.
The group, Demand Justice, is formally releasing the first edition of what will be an annual report card on Friday. In it, they offer grades for Senate Democrats based on their voting record on Trump’s nominees.
Supplementing the report card will be a $40,000 digital ad buy. Ads will appear in the home states of those senators who received poor grades, while others will appear in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, displaying the grades of presidential candidates.
The campaign reflects the growing willingness of progressive interest groups to spend resources targeting Democrats. It also is part of a concerted push to make the judicial system a central issue in the 2020 conversation, which progressives assert was painfully absent among Democratic voters in the 2016 contest.
“This report card should send a message to every Democrat, especially those who have their eyes on the White House in 2020, that progressives will hold them accountable if they don’t take the fate of our courts seriously,” Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon said.
In compiling its report card, Demand Justice considered two elements: how each senator voted on the floor for Trump’s Supreme Court, circuit court, and district court nominees, and how they used so-called blue slips (essentially informal sign offs) for circuit court nominees from their home states.
Many of the grades are harsh, with more than a third of the Democrats receiving a D or an F. Among Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chris Coons (D-DE) both earned a D+; Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) received a D; and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) got a D-.
Among those running for president, the marks were much better. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) received an A; Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) received an A-minus; and Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) received a B-plus.
But Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), another presidential candidate and, like Harris and Booker, a member of the Judiciary Committee, got an F, primarily for her support of Trump’s circuit court and district court judges. Klobuchar was also dinged for supporting and returning the blue slip for the nomination of David Stras to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Stras was nominated and confirmed despite the fact that Klobuchar’s then colleague in the state and the party, Sen. Al Franken, did not return his blue slip.
According to Demand Justice, Senate Democrats overall voted for Trump’s judges 60 percent of the time or better. And those, Fallon said, did not include the unanimous consent agreements, which were crafted by party leadership to confirm a slew of nominees and expedite the congressional calendar. The group’s grading plan is also endorsed by Indivisible, the progressive resistance outfit that sprung up after Trump’s inauguration.
“We've heard loud and clear from our movement that they expect senators to do everything in their power to resist Trump's takeover of the courts,” said Angel Padilla, Indivisible’s national policy director. “The rights we are all working so hard to protect can and will be undone if Trump succeeds in filling the courts with extreme and unqualified judges. This report is a crucial resource for advocates to fully understand every tool available to senators and how to best hold them accountable in using those tools.”