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Let’s Meet the Judges Set to Leave a Trump-Sized Stamp on Texas for Decades

Just the man to determine Texas’ judicial future.EXPAND
Just the man to determine Texas’ judicial future.
Gage Skidmore
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Whatever happens over the next 15 months, whether President Donald Trump gets reelected and continues his slow-burn destruction of American political norms or a Democrat wins the White House and immediately begins trying to throw 2017-20 way down the memory hole, one piece of the president's legacy that will endure are his judicial appointments. Barring some kind congressional insurrection, Trump's federal judges — 165 have been confirmed so far — are going to be with us for decades, doing their best to graft contemporary society onto a document that was written 2½ centuries ago.

That's especially true in Texas, because of a backlog of judicial vacancies that developed during President Barack Obama's two terms in office. During his two-plus years in office, Trump has nominated and confirmed 15 judges to Texas' federal district courts and five judges to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the federal appellate court for Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Here's a closer look at five of those judges:

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk
First Liberty Institute

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk — Confirmed in June to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas — the district that oversees federal matters in Dallas and much of North Texas — Kacsmaryk made his bones at Plano's First Liberty Institute, a law firm that specializes in representing religious groups that believe they've been discriminated against.

Thanks to his work for the firm and his frequent appearances in the opinion pages of conservative publications, the senators who confirmed Kacsmaryk knew exactly what they were getting. He opposes same-sex marriage, believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and doesn't believe that the federal government should guarantee legally available birth control to all Americans.

Some of Kacsmaryk's most extreme views are summed up in an op-ed he wrote for the National Catholic Register in July 2015, shortly after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. He argues that, in legalizing same-sex marriage, the federal courts wrongfully toppled the final of four pillars — permanence, exclusivity, procreation and sexual difference, and complementarity — that Kacsmaryk believes should underpin all marriage law. Laws previously on the books against no-fault divorce, fornication, adultery and contraception should never have been ruled unconstitutional, he said.

U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr — Soon-to-be U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr gets a gold star for his previous job — being a top aide to Texas' upstanding and law-abiding attorney general, Ken Paxton. Confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday, Starr played a key role in defending Texas' dubiously constitutional voter ID law, fought in court against Obama administration protections for transgender kids attending public schools and testified in favor of a bill in the Texas Legislature that would've required all fetal tissue resulting from an abortion to be buried or cremated, whether the woman undergoing the procedure wanted it or not.

Starr also supported the right of Texas county clerks to deny marriage licences to same-sex couples in 2015.

“If a clerk has a religious objection personally, state law currently allows them to delegate those duties to issue marriage licenses to others in their offices," Starr said at the 2015 Texas Tribune festival. "There is a new constitutional right after Obergefell (v. Hodges), but we can’t, in the rush to recognize that, gloss over the other rights that have always existed under the First Amendment, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts at the federal and state level, under employment law at the federal and state level."

Starr has been appointed to serve in Dallas on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas bench.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown — The U.S. Senate confirmed Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Brown for a spot on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on Wednesday. That means Texas Gov. Greg Abbott can unilaterally appoint a new justice to Texas' highest civil court. It also means the good people of South Texas will have some of their federal grievances heard by a man who once suggested secession as an alternative to allowing same-sex marriage in the state.

“What can Texas do about these rulings? Short of what some states did in 1861, there’s not much that can be done. A constitutional amendment would solve this, sure, but I believe that’s an uphill battle. I’m not optimistic for this to turn around any time soon,” Brown said at GOP rally in 2015.

U.S. Circuit Court Judge James Ho — Former Texas Solicitor James Ho squeaked onto the Texas Supreme Court by a 53-43 margin in December 2017. He gets points for being a strong supporter of birthright citizenship, but not much else.  

Ho is perhaps best known for writing a memo cited in the 2002 "Bybee memo," the document used by then-President George W. Bush's administration to justify the use of torture against terror suspects. According to reporting by Pro Publica, Ho's memo, which hasn't been released because of attorney-client privilege, argued that international treaties didn't apply to prisoners swept up during the United States' ongoing military involvement in the Middle East.

U.S. District Judge J. Campbell Barker — J. Campbell Barker, confirmed for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in May, comes with the same Texas judge starter kit as Brown, Kacsmaryk and Starr.

He's helped fight for Texas' voter ID law and against voting rights as Texas' deputy solicitor general, helped write an amicus brief for the state in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado, supporting a Colorado bakery's right not to bake a cake for a same-sex couple's wedding, and fought against the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed individuals brought to the United States as children to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

Barker gets a bonus for being part of Texas Attorney General's Office team that argued that a Texas man who sat in prison for 32 years without a conviction hadn't had his constitutional right to a speedy trial violated. 

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