Todd Johnson / November 7, 2017

Trump Is Already Leaving His Mark on the Courts

The president has tied Ronald Reagan for most appeals court positions filled in his first year.

While most of the mainstream media establishment continues to be fixated on tracking down the latest bit of minutiae pertaining to Special Counselor Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation, there is a momentous story happening in Washington, DC, that has all but been ignored by the fourth estate. As tomorrow marks one year since Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, it makes for a good opportunity to point it out.

Last week, the Republican-controlled Senate successfully confirmed four of President Trump’s circuit court of appeals nominees, bringing their total to eight circuit court judges being approved this year. That number represents a 4.5% turnover of the 179 total appeals court judgeships available. More impressively, Trump has now tied President Ronald Reagan’s accomplishment of placing eight judges on the appeals courts in the first year of an administration.

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, this track record of success has been primarily due to the dynamic partnership between the Trump White House and the Senate leadership — specifically Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley. While the president deserves some criticism for his inability to fill executive branch jobs more quickly, his success with judicial candidates is laudable.

When he entered office in January, Trump had about twice as many lower court vacancies as his predecessor. His ability to work with McConnell and the rest of the Republican Senate has afforded him the opportunity to really leave an imprint on the American judicial system and create a legacy that will long outlast his time in Washington.

Arguably more impressive than Trump’s work with the GOP is his administration’s work with the Democrat Party. According to Trump’s adviser on Supreme Court and judicial nominations, “This is an administration that has taken extraordinary lengths to consult with Democrat senators, more than I remember in my professional life than with any other Republican or Democratic administration.” Trump’s willingness to work with both sides of the aisle exemplifies political growth and shows a man who is adapting to the political challenges of working with members of Congress.

Contrary to the popular media narrative surrounding the Beltway, Trump has nominated excellent candidates for the judicial openings and Senate Republicans have done the heavy lifting needed to get qualified candidates through the arduous nominating process.

And they will have plenty more chances to put more conservative judges on the bench. Another 23 appeals court judgeships are currently vacant or will be vacated in the near future, which gives Trump the opportunity to overhaul some 17% of the circuit court positions. In addition to those openings, he also needs to nominate another 130 people for open slots at other courts, with the vast majority of them being at the federal district court level.

The only way that progress on these nominations will be stopped is if Democrats decide to invoke the cloture rule on nominations going forward. Cloture used to be a rarely used parliamentary procedure by which the Senate would vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other measure. Now it’s often used by the minority party in the Senate to drag out the process for judicial nominees. Democrats this year alone have utilized the tactic to delay 12 of 13 judicial nominees. Only time will tell if they will continue to obstruct Trump’s ability to fill vacancies.

That’s why it is imperative that the Republicans in the Senate stay united and patient. No Republican has voted against any of the judicial nominees so far and they need to continue that perfect track record if they want to positively impact the nation long after they leave office.

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