There are a number of ways that the Trump administration is undermining the rights of Americans, but one of the most important gets far less attention than it deserves: Donald Trump has stacked federal courts in his favor, a move that could embed his policies and positions into the DNA of American jurisprudence for decades.
“The Supreme Court gets the bulk of the attention, but the circuit courts decide the bulk of the cases,” University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur D. Hellman told the Washington Post in August. “Because the Supreme Court these days is taking so few cases, the law of the circuit is, on many, many issues, the final law for the people who live in that circuit.”
Two years in office, BuzzFeed reports that Trump has “gotten more judges confirmed to federal appeals courts in his first two years in office than any president in modern history.” Under his administration, Republicans have floated 30 nominees through confirmation hearings, making up more than 10 percent of the seats on regional appeals courts. With a Republican stronghold in the Senate, Trump is well-poised to accelerate this trend.
According to Buzzfeed, Trump’s appointments are overwhelmingly younger, white men and many are members of the conservative Federalist Society:
Many could be there for decades. Trump’s first White House counsel Don McGahn placed a premium on younger nominees who would make the most of a lifetime appointment, and largely succeeded. Half of the 30 judges confirmed so far are in their forties, and two just turned 40 this year. As is true of appeals court nominees regardless of the party in power, many of these judges came through elite law schools and clerked for Supreme Court justices. They’re mostly men, and nearly all are white.
Included in the new crop of rightwing judges are 5th Circuit Judge James Ho, who once called abortion a “moral tragedy,” and Judge Stephanos Bibas, who opposed a New Jersey law limiting the number of bullets a firearm because it would “water” the Second Amendment “down.” Slate notes that the conservative tilt of the Supreme Court may encourage lower judges to lean into “their jurisprudential preferences” of anti-abortion and gun rights.
Once confirmed, judges earn a lifetime appointment. (Slate estimates that some may be on the bench until 2068). Like Brett Kavanaugh, they are here to stay.