On Wednesday afternoon, someone with almost no courtroom experience was given a lifetime job as a federal district court judge. Sarah Pitlyk has never tried a case, taken a deposition, or argued a motion, the American Bar Association noted when it unanimously determined she was not qualified to be a federal judge. Among her many shortcomings, it cited “the absence of any trial or even real litigation experience.”
But her appointment to a job she is so clearly unqualified for was no surprise, because she passes the only litmus test that matters for President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate: She is an extreme opponent of reproductive rights and freedoms. She was awarded a federal judgeship not because she’s qualified for it — she’s obviously not — but precisely because she’s devoted her career to undermining constitutional freedoms that the vast majority of Americans have long voiced their support for.
Here’s just a taste of Pitlyk’s record. She is a lawyer at the Thomas More Society, an ultraconservative, anti-abortion law firm, and she opposes the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, calling the use of contraception “evil,” a “seriously wrongful” act, and “a grave moral wrong.” She (unsuccessfully) defended Iowa’s unconstitutional 6-week abortion ban, and she defended David Daleiden — an anti-abortion operative who was behind the 2015 video smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. He and his conspirators were just ordered to pay $2.27 million in penalties for breaking the law.
Pitlyk also opposes surrogacy — saying that it's "harmful to children" and "diminishes respect for motherhood and the unique mother-child bond" — and has also voiced objection to in vitro fertilization. The reality that nearly 1 in 6 US couples face infertility, and that many of them turn to in vitro treatments or surrogacy, doesn’t seem to matter to her. As Sen. Tammy Duckworth wrote, if Pitlyk has her way, “thousands of women like me may never be able to become moms.”
The people of Missouri already face some of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the country, making Pitlyk’s confirmation to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri particularly distressing. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s administration has weaponized the regulatory process, even to the point of tracking patients’ menstrual periods in a spreadsheet to try to eliminate abortion access in the state. Missourians look to the courts to safeguard their health and rights, but unfortunately Pitlyk cannot be trusted with upholding our constitutional freedoms.
This isn’t just happening in Missouri. Pitlyk’s confirmation is emblematic of the coordinated campaign by the Trump administration and Republicans in the Senate to remake an entire branch of government by filling lifetime judicial seats with unfit ideologues — all in an effort to restrict reproductive health and rights, including access to safe, legal abortion.
When he took office, Trump inherited more than 100 open lower court judgeships across the country due to former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s unprecedented refusal to even consider Obama’s nominees during his final two years in office. Once Trump was in the White House, McConnell and the Republican-led Senate acted quickly, setting a record for confirming the most federal appeals judges in a president’s first year. Here are some stats to chew on: Trump has appointed 170 federal judges — that’s nearly 20% of the lifetime seats on our judiciary. Over 25% of federal appeals judges were appointed by Trump, and three of the 13 federal appellate courts have been flipped to a Republican majority since Trump was elected. The diversity numbers are just as stark: Over 70% of these judges are white men.
At the same time, we’ve seen an unprecedented wave of unconstitutional abortion bans filed by state lawmakers across the country — including more than 300 bills restricting abortion across 47 states in 2019 alone. Nearly half of those restrictions were abortion bans, including those that were actually signed into law in Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri.
This is not a coincidence. State lawmakers believe that when these anti-abortion restrictions get challenged, the federal courts, packed with Trump-appointed judges, will uphold severe restrictions on people’s health and rights. They will get to decide the fate of laws like the seven total or near-total abortion bans that have passed in 2019 alone, as well as federal and state measures to “defund” Planned Parenthood. And their ultimate goal has been to move these cases all the way up to the Supreme Court, where they hope to erode Roe v. Wade.
And they’re well on their way. In March, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in an abortion case for the first time since the appointment of justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, both of whom have records of voting to restrict reproductive rights. There are 19 other cases one step away from the Supreme Court that could further chip away at Roe or render it meaningless. If Roe is overturned, 25 million women — 1 in 3 women of reproductive age — will live in a state where they cannot access a safe, legal abortion.
The Trump administration — and its Republican leadership’s anti-abortion agenda — stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming and record-high support that Roe has: 77% of Americans stand with Roe, according to a poll from NPR, PBS, and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. We also know there is not a single state in the country where banning abortion is popular.
In their relentless efforts to remake the judiciary, Trump and Senate Republicans are ignoring the vast majority of Americans who do not want to see Roe decimated.
Senators need to consider the rights of their constituents before they vote to confirm extreme nominees who are not fit to judge, like Sarah Pitlyk. We know that people across the country are calling their senators because the stakes have never been higher. Wednesday’s vote on the Senate floor is a stark reminder.
Anisha Singh is the director of judiciary and democracy affairs at Planned Parenthood Action Fund.