The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The most remarkable rebukes of Trump’s legal case: From the judges he hand-picked

At least nine Trump-appointed judges or Supreme Court short-listers have declined to bolster his claims of election fraud. None have ruled in his favor.

President Trump and then-Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett depart after Barrett's selection was announced. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

For much of his four years in office, President Trump has hailed the appointment of a historically large number of judges as a conservative, political accomplishment. Before appointing Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, he argued that she needed to be confirmed before Election Day so she could help prevent the election from being stolen. And shortly after Election Day, Trump surrogate Harmeet Dhillon made it abundantly clear that the campaign expected Barrett and Trump’s other appointees to be on the team.

“We’re waiting for the United States Supreme Court, of which the President has nominated three justices, to step in and do something,” Dhillon said. “And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through and pick it up.”

Trump’s expectation of loyalty has been clear throughout his presidency, even when it comes to apolitical jobs like judicial postings. But what he has gotten during his election challenges has been anything but that. Repeatedly, judges with ties to Trump have joined all the others in undermining his case.

Over the past three days, all three of those Supreme Court justices declined to weigh in in favor of the campaign’s far-flung effort to overturn the election results, and another Trump appointee issued a blistering ruling in Wisconsin.

All told, at least eight judges appointed by Trump have ruled against or declined to bolster the pro-Trump effort pushing baseless allegations of massive voter fraud and irregularities, as did another on his Supreme Court shortlist. And of the 46 people on those shortlists, more than 10 percent have failed to “come through” for him.

‘The last wall’: How dozens of judges across the political spectrum rejected Trump’s efforts to overturn the election

The big one was Friday’s Supreme Court decision, in which the court declined to even accept a dubious filing from 18 Republican state attorneys general and the Trump campaign seeking to overturn the results in four states. Two justices offered a slightly more nuanced view — that the case should be accepted — but none were Trump appointees Barrett, Neil M. Gorsuch or Brett M. Kavanaugh. What’s more, the two justices (Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas) also said they wouldn’t grant the requested relief, which was a significant rebuke in and of itself.

While there was no vote count, the silence from Trump’s appointees spoke volumes.

Other Trump appointees haven’t been so silent, though. Chief among them is Brett H. Ludwig, whom Trump nominated to a U.S. District Court in Wisconsin in 2017. Earlier this month, he called the Trump campaign’s request to have the GOP-appointed Wisconsin legislature pick new presidential electors “bizarre.” And he followed that up Saturday by ruling against the “extraordinary” lawsuit.

“A sitting president who did not prevail in his bid for reelection has asked for federal court help in setting aside the popular vote based on disputed issues of election administration, issues he plainly could have raised before the vote occurred,” he wrote.

Ludwig added: “This court allowed the plaintiff the chance to make his case, and he has lost on the merits. In his reply brief, plaintiff ‘asks that the Rule of Law be followed.’ It has been.”

Ludwig’s stern rebuke echoed a Trump federal appeals court nominee, Stephanos Bibas, who ruled against the Trump campaign in late November in Pennsylvania.

“Charges of unfairness are serious,” Bibas wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel. “But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

Around the same time, another federal appeals court ruled against another extraordinary case brought by pro-Trump lawyer L. Lin Wood. Of the three judges on that panel, two were finalists for Trump’s Supreme Court vacancies — William Pryor and Barbara Lagoa — and Lagoa was initially selected for the appeals court by Trump.

Pryor wrote in the decision that Wood lacked standing to bring the case, and even if he did have standing, the case was moot because Georgia had already certified its election results.

“Wood’s arguments reflect a basic misunderstanding of what mootness is,” Pryor wrote.

Trump’s effort has also been rebuked in two lower-profile cases.

One came from Judge Andrew Brasher, whom Trump has nominated twice — first as a district court judge in 2018 and then as a circuit court judge just a year ago. Brasher denied a request from Wood and former Trump team lawyer Sidney Powell on Dec. 4, calling the litigation “last-minute” and noting that it sought “sweeping relief.” Brasher declined Wood’s and Powell’s request to have the court review a district court’s decision.

And in mid-November, Trump-appointed District Court Judge Steven Grimberg issued an even more pointed decision at Wood’s expense. Grimberg said Wood lacked standing and that the evidence was far short of what would be needed to grant Wood’s remarkable request for a federal judge to intervene in a state’s election results.

“It harms the public interest in countless ways, particularly in the environment in which this election occurred,” Grimberg said. “To halt the certification at literally the 11th hour would breed confusion and potentially disenfranchisement that I find has no basis in fact or in law.”

Trump and his campaign have repeatedly blamed its overwhelmingly awful court record on “activist” judges. And after their Supreme Court loss Friday, they suggested that the court essentially punted on a technicality.

As The Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman and Elise Viebeck reported this weekend, though, this ignores not just how many Trump appointees have ruled against it, but how many judges of all stripes at every level — from country and state courts to federal ones and even the Supreme Court — have declined to back up the Trump team’s assertions or rule in their favor. All told, at least 86 judges have rejected at least one post-election lawsuit, and 38 of them were appointed by Republicans.

What’s more, before the election, Trump-appointed judges had been instrumental in ruling against loosening voting rules. A Washington Post analysis from Ann E. Marimow and Matt Kiefer found that Trump appointees accounted for three of every four decisions in that regard.

That more than anything would seem to suggest that the ground was fertile for there to be a judge — someone, somewhere — who might breathe life into Trump’s baseless claims of massive voter fraud, even if it would never be enough to actually change the winner of the 2020 election. The fact that not even that has happened truly says it all about the veracity of Trump’s claims.