The Senate on Tuesday confirmed the 15th circuit court judge since President Trump took office 15 months ago, far outpacing the rate at which his recent predecessors were able to fill vacancies in the powerful appeals courts in the early months of their administrations.
The trend has potentially significant political consequences for the direction of the country’s most influential federal benches at a time when several will be weighing questions about key administration policies, ranging from immigration to the environment.
The new judges also could swing the courts toward constitutional interpretations more in line with conservative ideology for years to come. Several of the judges securing the lifetime appointments have decades before they hit retirement age.
In their victory lap Tuesday, Republican leaders argued that the talent and professionalism of Trump’s nominees, not their political leanings, are the factors making it possible to confirm so many to the federal appeals bench.
“These are men and women who try to interpret laws as written or as the Constitution seems to specify,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement after the confirmation of Kyle Duncan to serve as a judge on the United States Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans.
But Tuesday is not the first time McConnell has pointed to judicial confirmations as the GOP’s key achievement — and his key objective while the Republican Party has control of majorities in Congress and the White House.
“We’re in the personnel business,” McConnell said late last year at a breakfast sponsored by the news site Axios, pointing to the “unique opportunity” Republicans have “to move America right of center” and have “a huge impact on the court system in this country for a generation.”
Duncan, and most of the other circuit court judges to have been appointed since Trump took office, have been confirmed on votes sticking extremely close to the party line.
Republicans say it is a sign of Democrats trying to block Trump, and Democrats believe it is proof Republicans are trying to use their control of Congress and the White House to make lasting changes to the judicial branch.
There are currently 18 vacancies on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump has named nominees for nine of them.