Trump with historic opportunity to reshape federal judiciary

Donald Trump will enter office in January with an unprecedented opportunity to immediately place his mark on the federal judiciary.  According to the Washington Post, Trump will be able to fill more than 100 slots on the federal court at all levels, in addition to the vacant Supreme Court justice.  Contrast that with the 54 vacancies President Obama faced when he took office in 2009.

Trump will have a Republican Senate eager to do his bidding – just as long as his nominees are conservative enough to pass muster.

The judiciary also is a top priority for McConnell, who stands ready to help the Trump White House identify candidates and grease the sometimes-laborious Senate confirmation process.

Donald Trump will enter office in January with an unprecedented opportunity to immediately place his mark on the federal judiciary.  According to the Washington Post, Trump will be able to fill more than 100 slots on the federal court at all levels, in addition to the vacant Supreme Court justice.  Contrast that with the 54 vacancies President Obama faced when he took office in 2009.

Trump will have a Republican Senate eager to do his bidding – just as long as his nominees are conservative enough to pass muster.

The judiciary also is a top priority for McConnell, who stands ready to help the Trump White House identify candidates and grease the sometimes-laborious Senate confirmation process.

The Trump administration and the Senate will be under pressure to quickly install judges in courts around the country where cases are severely backlogged because of long-vacant seats.

There are 38 so-called judicial emergencies, according to the nonpartisan Judicial Conference, including in Texas, where seven seats have sat empty for more than one year. The Obama administration and the state’s two conservative Republican senators could not come to an agreement on nominees for the many openings.

“There is a real impact on real people,” said W. Neil Eggleston, Obama’s White House counsel. “There are people and companies who are not having their cases heard because there are no judges around.”

The politics surrounding judicial vacancies are more poisonous than at any time in recent memory, as the Garland episode has shown, with Democrats and Republicans at loggerheads for much of the two years since McConnell took leadership of the Senate.

[Supreme Court to begin new term short-handed as its ideological balance hinges on fall vote]

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, issued a 4,200-word statement this month saying that by blocking Garland, Republicans had committed “the most outrageous act of obstruction and irresponsibility” that he had seen in his 42 years in the Senate.

Speaking more generally about circuit and district court vacancies, Leahy added: “Despite the fact that there are dozens of qualified, consensus nominees pending on the Senate floor right now, we will finish this Congress having confirmed just 22 judicial nominees in two years. That is the lowest number since Harry Truman was president.”

As with many subjects, judicial nomination data can be subject to interpretation. Judicial vacancies ebb and flow somewhat randomly, considering judges serve lifetime appointments until they choose to retire or die.

“It is a challenge to make apples-to-apples comparisons at the end of a term because vacancies don’t happen in the same regular basis as they do in the Senate or the White House,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell. “To make an apples-to-apples comparison on a snapshot in time doesn’t work.”

Trump praised now deceased Supreme Court justice Scalia and says he will nominate judges in Scalia's mold.  In truth, there probably aren't 100 Justice Scalias populating the federal judiciary.  But there are plenty of candidates with solid conservative credentials who have a fealty to the Constitution and would be willing to hand down rulings consistent with constitutional principles.

Democrats will seek to obstruct most of the nominees, but Senator McConnell has already indicated that the nuclear option on judges is in play, where a simple majority of senators would suffice to seat any judge Trump nominates. 

This is a unique opportunity for the president-elect, and conservatives will be watching carefully to see that Trump follows through on his promise to remake the federal courts.

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