Trump is Trying to Embed a White House Insider onto the D.C. Circuit

Americans deserve federal judges who will be independent checks on the executive branch. Katsas won’t.

President Trump last month nominated Gregory Katsas, Deputy White House Counsel, to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — a court often referred to as the second highest court in the land.

The D.C. Circuit is responsible for deciding uniquely complex and nationally significant cases, and is the court that most closely oversees federal agency action on complicated federal regulations and significant national civil rights, civil liberty, and security issues. It is a court that needs independent judges who will serve as a check on the executive branch.

That is why it is troubling that Katsas has been nominated to this important court. In his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire, Katsas wrote that “In the White House Counsel’s Office, my principal client is the President of the United States. I am often called on to provide advice to him, to his Chief of Staff, to his White House Counsel, and to various other senior officials in the White House Office. The subject could be virtually any legal issue of interest and not handled directly by the White House Counsel or by one of the other Deputy Counsels.”

“Virtually any legal issue of interest” is extremely vague, but at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D. Calif., got him to admit to involvement in many of the most controversial civil rights rollbacks taken by the Trump administration.

FEINSTEIN
Did you work or advise on the Muslim travel ban executive order?
KATSAS
Yes I worked on that executive — I gave advice on that executive order, yes.
FEINSTEIN
Did you work or advise on the religious liberty executive order?
KATSAS
Yes I did.
FEINSTEIN
Did you work or advise on the executive order creating the president’s commission on election integrity?
KATSAS
Yes I did.
FEINSTEIN
The president’s decision to end the DACA program?
KATSAS
Yes I did.

During his hearing, Katsas also refused to agree with the principle that all waterboarding is torture. All of these issues are critically important to the civil and human rights community, and it is extremely concerning that someone who helped craft or gave advice about these actions and policies might land on the appellate court that could ultimately review them. Despite the fact that his involvement in these controversial rollbacks of civil rights likely earned him the president’s nomination, Katsas refused to discuss what advice he provided the president on these issues, citing attorney-client privilege, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate.

Katsas previously worked as a political appointee in the George W. Bush Justice Department, and he served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He is also a longtime member of the conservative Federalist Society, to which President Trump has outsourced the judicial selection process. According to a new report from the Alliance for Justice, “Katsas’s career has also been defined by advocating for virtually unchecked executive power, trying to weaken civil rights laws, and working to eviscerate critical protections for the environment, workers, consumers and investors.”

Americans need and deserve federal judges who will serve as fair and independent checks on the executive branch, especially an executive branch that has proved through its actions that it has no interest in protecting and promoting civil and human rights. A man who has advocated for “virtually unchecked executive power” and one who has worked on “virtually any legal issue of interest” to President Trump should not be entrusted to serve for life on the nation’s second most significant federal court.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights urges senators to reject Katsas’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit.