By Nicole Russell
While Democrats press for impeachment, amidst the chaos and controversy, President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have quietly pressed forward and made good on one thing he promised: appointing originalist judges to the federal bench.
Because many conservatives are split on their loyalty to Trump, they often disregard this fact. Meanwhile, liberals seem to see it clearly and are opining about how awful it is.
Neither of these reactions makes complete sense, although I can understand the left’s alarmism somewhat. However, it’s the president’s job to fill vacancies. Not only has Trump appointed more judges to the federal judiciary than anyone thought he would, he has appointed more than George H.W. Bush or Barack Obama did by this time in their respective presidencies.
Ian Millhiser, a progressive journalist, wrote an explainer in Vox about what Trump has “done” to the judiciary. I couldn’t say it better so I’ll quote him directly, “Trump hasn’t simply given lots of lifetime appointments to lots of lawyers. He’s filled the bench with some of the smartest, and some of the most ideologically reliable, men and women to be found in the conservative movement. Long after Trump leaves office, these judges will shape American law — pushing it further and further to the right even if the voters soundly reject Trumpism in 2020.”
Not only did Trump appoint Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, he also appointed 48 judges to the courts of appeal—and he’s still got another year of his term left. And Trump hasn’t just appointed a bevy of judges to the courts of appeal; by any metric, he’s appointed above-average attorneys with federal or Supreme Court clerkships under their belts, ensuring these are some of the most qualified folks to be judges the field of law has to offer.
Millhiser wrote, “[B]ased solely on objective legal credentials, the average Trump appointee has a far more impressive résumé than any past president’s nominees.”
Democrats of course, can’t stand this. Recently The Hill reported Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) complaining that “Mitch McConnell has converted the United States Senate into a machine to approve judges.”
Nevermind that this is one of the things the senate is tasked with doing, and that they’re the only governing body that can approve judges, per the Constitution, Democrats prefer to whine about it anyway. (Also, nevermind the fact that if Hilary Clinton had won the election, Democrats would be approving her appointments in a similar way.)
While we wait for our Democratic colleagues to let this legislation move forward, the Senate’s used the time to confirm more of President Trump’s impressive nominees for the federal courts.
Totals since January 2017:
Supreme Court: 2
Circuit courts: 48
District courts: 120
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) December 5, 2019
Confirmed, 49-44: Executive Calendar #478 Sarah E. Pitlyk to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri
— Senate Cloakroom (@SenateCloakroom) December 4, 2019
Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution told Roll Call that the White House and conservative groups have been “appointing courts of appeals judges with bulldozer efficiency.”
Anyone who has studied the judicial branch of the government knows that the appellate court is where policy is often made, and if you’ve been keeping an eye on the cases sifting through the courts, you’ll know that at any given time there are dozens of important cases these judges rule on that affect the lives of thousands of people.
While many people were unabashedly pro-Trump because he was a businessman or anti-establishment, or simply a candidate that defied political norms, I voted for Trump for precisely the reasons Millhiser penned in his column on judges.
I suspected Trump would do things differently as president—although I didn’t accurately predict just how differently—and he has. But I did know that if Hillary Clinton took office, with as many judicial vacancies as there were, she would appoint the kind of judges Obama did. Many of those have proven to be activist judges who are hostile to free speech, religious liberty cases, and block heart beat bills, such as the one passed in Georgia’s legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp.
The legacy of Trump’s presidency will likely be examined many different ways, but in terms of judicial appointments, it’s hard to see how conservatives can ignore the quality and quantity of incredible attorneys he has appointed to the federal bench.
Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Federalist.