Within a matter of months, almost half of the judges on the powerful 11th circuit court of appeals will have been appointed by President Trump. On Thursday, Judge Stanley Marcus, a Clinton appointee, announced he will take senior status on the federal appeals court in Atlanta. Marcus’s decision, first reported by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, comes one month after another jurist on the same court, Judge Gerald Tjoflat, announced he would become a senior judge with a reduced case load.
The 11th Circuit covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida, and because of the significant numbers of African Americans in all three states, the circuit sees a lot of civil rights cases. A high number of death penalty cases, voting rights cases, and Title IX sexual harassment cases come through the court as well. Lilly Ledbetter’s pay discrimination suit was brought in that circuit, as was Martha Sandoval’s famous lawsuit alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin.
The Republican majority in the Senate — which helped block President Obama from appointing judges to open vacancies — has made filling the openings a high priority.
In the 5th Circuit, which covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, Trump has gotten to appoint five judges out of 17 total; on the 4th Circuit, he’s gotten three of 15 judges. On the 11th circuit, there are only 12 judges, and five them will soon have been appointed by President Trump. Of the 43 positions Trump has already been able to fill on the circuit court; zero of them black judges. And these two openings on the 11th circuit are particularly critical, says Leslie Proll.
Proll is a civil rights lawyer who practiced in the 11th Circuit and the former policy director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She now advises the NAACP on judicial nominations. She tells Rolling Stone, “If these two vacancies are filled by Trump, the 11th circuit will be the Southern circuit with the highest percentage of Trump judges — and that should alarm everyone.”
“This circuit probably has the highest percentage of African American residents of any circuit in the country. It only has one black judge,” Proll says. That judge, Charles Wilson, is almost eligible to take senior status as well. “If that happens, you could conceivably have a Southern circuit, which presides over the rights of millions of African Americans, and have no black judge.”
One reason that is even possible, Proll says, is because Obama didn’t prioritize diversity in this circuit from the start of his presidency. “He tried to appoint an African American, but he tried to only in his very last year. It’s a lesson for the next president… if you want to maintain or increase diversity, you need to do that early.”