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Trump's 87 picks to be federal judges are 92% white with just one black and one Hispanic nominee

President Donald Trump
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
President Donald Trump

President Trump's search for deeply conservative federal judges appears to have eliminated most African Americans and Hispanics from the running.

Among Trump's first 87 judicial nominees, only one is African American and one is Hispanic. Five are Asian Americans. Eighty are white.

The demographics signal a return to the 1980s, when 94% of President Ronald Reagan's confirmed judges were white. Since then, minority enrollment in law schools has nearly tripled.

The last four presidents, both Republican and Democratic, filled at least 10% of open seats on the federal bench with black or Hispanic nominees. More than one-third of President Barack Obama's confirmed judges were minorities.

"It is most unfortunate," says Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "It turns the clock back on years of work and effort that went into promoting judicial diversity."

The numbers became more striking Monday, when Trump nominated seven men and two women to federal appellate and district courts.

"Surprise!" Obama's former White House deputy counsel, Christopher Kang, tweeted. "All 9 of Trump's judicial nominees today appear to be white."

What's unclear is whether the White House is passing over potential African American and Hispanic candidates, or whether they are having trouble finding those with sufficiently conservative credentials.

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Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, suspects the goal is to have strict conservatives at all costs.

"These nominees are the product of years-long grooming and a networking process that was put in place by the Federalist Society," Aron says. "They are picking from the most ideologically extreme end of the spectrum."

Unlike President George W. Bush, who chose 18% minority judges, the new administration has made an effort to find candidates who adhere to the twin judicial philosophies of originalism and textualism — strict adherence to the Constitution and federal statutes.

"Working with the Senate, we are appointing judges who will interpret the Constitution as written, including a great new Supreme Court justice and more circuit court judges than any new administration in the history of our country," Trump said in his State of the Union address last month. He cited gun rights and religious liberty as priorities.

Senate Republicans who have confirmed those appeals court judges at a record pace also herald the change.

"President Trump had more new circuit court judges confirmed in his first year than any prior president, a testimony to the fine quality of the nominees he sends here to the Senate," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel at the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which has promoted and applauded Trump's nominees, says quality is more important than quotas.

"President Trump isn't looking for people to fit a quota. He's looking for people with a principled judicial philosophy," she says. "The fundamental question is making sure we have judges who are going to be faithful to the Constitution."

The president has nominated five Asian Americans for judgeships, including James Ho, the first to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit covering Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Two others have come from McConnell's home state of Kentucky.

But Alabama's Terry Moorer is the lone African American nominee, and Texas's Fernando Rodriguez the lone Hispanic. Both have been nominated for district courts.

The trend toward more white judges already is having a noticeable effect in the nation's courts:

• Trump has selected white nominees for 10 seats that Obama unsuccessfully sought to fill with minorities.

• The 5th Circuit appeals court will have no Hispanic judges, down from three during Obama's first term. Nearly four in 10 Texas residents are Hispanic.

• The 7th Circuit appeals court will have no minority judges at all. Illinois is about 40% minority, while Indiana and Wisconsin are about 20%.

"Why can't they find any diversity, or why aren't they trying to find any diversity?" says Kang, who managed Obama's judicial nominations for four years. "There are some really conservative judges out there who are also people of color.

"If the conservative judicial philosophy is so alienating to people of color, who will soon be a majority in this country, I think that's an indictment of that judicial philosophy itself."