Las Vegas Sun

November 14, 2018

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Sun editorial:

Trump quietly executing plan to fill judicial branch with extremists

Amid the deafening noise of the Washington news cycle, the Trump administration is making a relatively quiet yet profoundly disturbing effort to flood the court system with judges who conform with the president’s extremist ideology.

Witness Andrew Oldham, Trump’s nominee for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

As a legal adviser to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, going back to the governor’s days as the state’s attorney general, Oldham has taken alarming positions on a number of subjects.

He’s referred to regulatory and governmental bodies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency as “fundamentally illegitimate” and “enraging.” He joined Scott Pruitt, the controversial EPA administrator, in several lawsuits against the agency back when Pruitt was the attorney general for the state of Oklahoma. He also fought against consumer, health and workplace protections, calling them “constitutionally suspect,” and refused to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee whether he believed the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation ruling was correctly decided.

Name practically any social topic — the Dream Act, reproductive rights, gun safety — and Oldham’s record on it reflects that of an ideological warrior.

Would someone with such extreme views be able to put them aside and rule impartially from the bench?

Oldham told a Senate committee that he could, and that his rhetoric was merely part of a “zealous defense” of his client and the state’s controversial positions.

But that’s highly questionable, especially given that his “enraging” comment came in a speech and not in court. These are the words and positions of someone who wants President Donald Trump to dismantle government, not just a lawyer who was stating them as a matter of record on behalf of a client.

Environmentalists and advocates on such issues as immigration, civil rights and gender equality are particularly concerned about Oldham’s nomination, and with good reason.

Conservatism in the name of upholding the law is one thing. Activism in the name of advancing a conservative extremist agenda is another. That’s where Oldham lies, and it’s why the Senate should block his nomination. (The committee voted 11-10, along party lines, to send his nomination to the full Senate.)

Oldham isn’t Trump’s only controversial nominee for the courts. Far from it. Others include Wendy Vitter, an anti-abortion activist who has spread phony science and misinformation, and former Oklahoma solicitor general Patrick Wyrick, who worked hand-in-glove with Pruitt in his attacks on the EPA, for federal district judgeships.

Trump and his supporters have been railing for years about activist liberal judges, but they can’t have it both ways. Regardless of where judges fall along the political spectrum, their ability to be fair and impartial is tantamount.

We trust that Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, will follow the lead of her counterparts on the Judiciary Committee in voting against candidates like Oldham.

Meanwhile, we’d encourage Nevadans to contact Republican Sen. Dean Heller and demand that he oppose Trump on these nominations. Heller’s Las Vegas office number is 702-388-6605, and his Washington number is 202-224-6244. His online contact form can be accessed by visiting heller.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-form