After a gunman used an assault weapon to kill more than two dozen parishioners in a Texas church, just weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, President Donald Trump declared it was too soon to talk about guns. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said it was time for prayers, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered condolences. Advocates for stronger gun laws, in turn, urged Congress to find the courage to stand up to the gun lobby.
This Congress likely won’t heed that call because the National Rifle Association opposes new gun laws — despite bluffing an initial willingness to compromise after the Las Vegas massacre.
But even more alarming than the gun lobby’s chokehold on Congress — and covered far less frequently — is the NRA’s growing clout in shaping the federal judiciary under Trump.
The gun lobby said it spent $1 million to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Now the NRA has its sights set on the lower federal courts. McConnell is leading a huge push to fill the record-breaking number of federal court vacancies created by his obstruction of President Barack Obama’s nominees — and the gun lobby is reaping a windfall.
Because these judges will have life tenure and decide cases for decades to come, the NRA’s influence over the courts could last far beyond this Congress or Trump’s presidency.
McConnell is leading a huge push to fill federal court vacancies — and the gun-lobby is reaping a windfall.
Last month, the NRA’s flagship publication endorsed four nominees who “stand for gun rights.” Since then, the Senate confirmed one for a seat on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals; the Senate Judiciary Committee approved two on strict party-line votes; and the fourth had a confirmation hearing last week.
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More NRA-approved judges are in the pipeline.
Take Brett Talley, a candidate for the federal trial court in Alabama, whose nomination is expected to reach the Senate floor this week. Talley graduated law school only in 2007, so he lacks the American Bar Association-recommended minimum of 12 years of legal experience. His Senate paperwork shows political experience writing speeches and op-eds for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee. It also shows Talley has never held judicial office or tried a case. But he does enjoy writing horror fiction and participating in the Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group — both highlighted on Talley’s resume.
If Talley’s CV lacks the breadth of legal experience typical of many past nominees, it passes the gun lobby test with flying colors. A month after 20 first-graders were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, Talley wrote that we were learning “the wrong lesson from Newtown.” Retailing the good-guy-with-a-gun rhetoric, he called for public school teachers to carry guns. Later, in a post on his personal blog, Talley issued a “call to arms.” Democrats, he wrote, planned “the greatest attack on our constitutional freedoms in our lifetime.” In response, Talley pledged his “support to the NRA; financially, politically and intellectually.”