While you were worried about Russian collusion, Kardashian pardons, national anthem protests, trade tariffs, border walls and Melania Trump’s
secret face-lift kidney surgery, the Trump administration has been successfully implementing an insidious plan that threatens to reverberate in black America for decades to come.
When it comes to the black community, despite what media headlines and the prevailing rhetoric would have you believe, the biggest and longest-lasting effect that any president has is on the criminal-justice system—namely the federal courts. Laws can be repealed. Congress can overturn economic policies. But federal judgeships are forever.
Because of the Republican Party’s obstruction, during Barack Obama’s presidency, the Senate Judicial Committee refused to even consider most of his administration’s judicial nominees, leaving a record number of vacancies on the federal bench. However, since Trump has taken office, his administration has quietly and quickly filled this void with far-right, staunchly conservative judges who are, almost exclusively, white.
Of the 41 judges already confirmed under the Trump administration, 36 are white, according to the Federal Judicial Center’s statistics. The group also includes one Hispanic judge, four Asian justices and a grand total of zero African Americans. In fact, of the 87 federal judges even nominated by Donald Trump, only one is black.
When people regurgitate the uninformed question that asks what President Obama did for black people, his detractors (pronounced “Ta-viss Smī-lee” or, alternately, “Cor-nel West”) conveniently forget that the Obama administration appointed more nonwhite judges (116) and nominated a higher percentage of black judges (19 percent) than any other administration in history.
Of course, some would argue that this should not matter. Fox News, people who believe slavery was a choice and anyone wearing a red hat emblazoned with the Times New Roman font will tell you that diversity, affirmative action and any effort to make the judicial system reflect the demographics of the people it serves are a bunch of hogwash. They would say that the law is the law and that the race or political affiliation of a judge has no bearing on how she or he dispenses justice.
But a recent study by researchers at Harvard University dispelled that narrative by using a little-known process called the scientific method. The extensive study found that white, Republican-appointed judges sentence black defendants to longer prison terms than black justices and judges appointed by Democratic presidents.
There is no debate. This is a fact.
The paper, “Judicial Politics and Sentencing Disparities,” didn’t extrapolate these results based on a small sample size. The study used the demographic data on federal judges from the previously mentioned Federal Judicial Center and examined every federal case from October 1998 to September 2015. The researchers ended up with 546,916 cases decided by 710 Republican-appointed judges and 688 Democratic-appointed judges.
The first thing the researchers found was that only 4.8 percent of Republican-appointed judges were black, versus 14.5 percent of those appointed by Democratic presidents. Democrats were also more likely than Republicans to appoint female judges (26.5 percent to 15.7 percent).
But when they looked at sentences handed down by white judges versus those by black judges and prison terms given out by Democrat-appointed judges versus their GOP-appointed counterparts, the disparities were stunning. (And by “stunning,” I mean “caused black people to Kanye-shrug and say, ‘We told y’all.’”)
Even after researchers controlled for defendant and case characteristics, the Harvard study showed that 65 percent of the sentencing gap (the difference between the sentences of white convicted felons and the longer sentences of blacks) could be explained by the fact that judges nominated by Republicans sentenced black people to longer sentences:
- Overall, Republican-appointed judges give defendants an average of 2.4 months longer in prison than Democratic-appointed judges.
- The statistics show that white judges, regardless of party affiliation, give longer sentences to black offenders.
- The average black person sentenced by a Republican-appointed judge receives a sentence that is three months longer than that of a white person whose case is similar.
- Black judges generally impose shorter sentences on average than white judges, regardless of the race of the defendant.
- Republican judges give female offenders two fewer months in prison than male offenders. However, black women who were sentenced by Republican-appointed justices received longer sentences than white women sentenced by GOP-appointed justices.
- Combining all factors, white, Republican-appointed judges sentence African-American men and boys to the longest jail terms of any other group.
In fact, when researchers controlled for the types of offenses and the history of the offender, the prison sentences handed down by white, Republican-appointed judges to black offenders were typically longer than the sentences handed down by:
- black judges
- Democratic-appointed judges
- female judges
- judges who were former prosecutors
- judges born in the South
Why is this important?
Because not only are Trump’s federal judicial nominees less qualified than the nominees of previous presidents, but he intentionally selects younger nominees, meaning that they will likely serve longer terms on the federal bench.
Combine that with Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department mandate to federal prosecutors to enforce mandatory-minimum sentences; his reboot of the drug war; the rejection of police reform; and the belief in the myth of black identity extremism, and it means that the prosecutors, judges and policies of the Trump administration are not only harsh but are also demonstrably and dangerously anti-black.
And Trump has more judicial vacancies to fill than any recent president. In fact, if he serves two terms, by the time he finishes, more than half of the 874 federal judges could be Trump appointees, according to the Washington Post. There is only one thing that could possibly prevent this from happening:
A Democrat-controlled Senate.
It all depends on the midterm elections and whether Senate Democrats will have the backbone not to fold themselves into a tissue-paper-like ball of docile passivity with which the GOP will wipe its ass, as usual.
Until then, the danger posed by the Trump administration has very little to do with the new Yeezy line of “Make America Great Again” hats, Kim Kardashian becoming the new Harriet Tubman, or a Russian VHS tape that smells slightly of urine.
The true danger is about the literal freedom of black people.