Need to Know: How Trump Is Making the Federal Court System More Conservative
With help from GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, Trump has pushed a record number of judges to U.S. circuit courts, and their right-wing leanings are already making waves.
Published on August 15, 2018

Over the first 20 months of Donald Trump’s tenure as president of the United States, the American public has been inundated with news of a new controversy almost every single day. From Russia, to immigration, infidelity, the environment, trade wars, Supreme Court resignations, and more, it’s difficult to keep track of the latest mishaps from the White House. 

In the midst of that unceasing hailstorm of real-time news and outrage, though, Trump and Senate Republicans have quietly confirmed 24 appellate judges to benches across the nation, adding a strong conservative tilt to the nation’s second-highest court system. 

According to the Washington Post, Trump’s two dozen appellate court appointees is a record number for the first 20 months of any president’s initial term. Because circuit judge confirmation hearings require a simple majority vote for approval in the Senate, GOP leader Mitch McConnell has found it easy to convince his right-wing peers to quickly sign off on almost all of Trump’s judicial selections. Like their peers in the Supreme Court, appellate judges serve lifetime terms.

“One of the most significant accomplishments in President Donald Trump’s first year will serve Americans for decades to come, yet it has received very little fanfare,” McConnell wrote in January.

During the twilight of Barack Obama’s presidency, McConnell made it clear that the Senate’s Republican majority would block any federal judicial nominee. And while most media coverage focused on the blacklisting of Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, the same strong-arm tactics applied to all of Obama’s potential appointees, leaving an unusual number of openings ready to be filled after Trump took office.

And since Trump’s appointees have begun taking on cases, it’s already clear that Trump’s own political opinions are being reflected in his judicial appointees. According to a report from USA Today this past May, federal judges appointed by Trump and confirmed by McConnell’s Senate have already ruled in favor of employers in discrimination suits, against death row inmates seeking pain-free executions, in addition to granting a man charged with sexual assault the “right” to face his accuser. 

In Illinois, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused the car-parts retail chain AutoZone of transferring Chicago-area employees to meet diversity requirements, but the  suit was ultimately blocked by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, including Trump appointee Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Last year, Judge Amul Thapar, a Trump appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, contributed to one decision that upheld institutional prayer in a local Michigan government body, and another which protected Ohio’s method of capital punishment by way of lethal injection, no matter how torturous the process is.

“It is no surprise that Trump’s judicial nominees, who were selected because of their extreme records, are now issuing rulings demonstrating that they remain extreme as judges," said Kristine Lucius, executive vice president for policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, to USA Today. "The Senate must stop rubber-stamping narrow-minded nominees to lifetime judicial appointments.” 

For now though, while Democrats try desperately to delay the Senate hearing of recent Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Trump and McConnell’s judicial free-for-all is continuing unencumbered, with two more federal appeals judges set to be confirmed by the end of this week. 

Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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