While most of the media’s attention has been squarely focused on the second round of Democratic debates, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) rushed to confirm 19 Trump appointees into lifetime tenures as federal judges before Congress breaks for recess this Friday.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted to end debate on 11 of the president’s judicial appointees while multiple Democratic senators were in Detroit for the debates. A whopping 9 of those appointees were confirmed the next day. According to BuzzFeed News’ Zoe Tillman, McConnell was able to confirm a total of 13 judges during the two days his Democratic colleagues were in Detroit for the debates.
Republicans had quite a week confirming judges before the August recess – 13 confirmations. That brings the total number of lower court confirmations this year to 61.
By my count, there are 114 current vacancies across the federal courts, the lowest it's been since Jan. 2017
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) August 1, 2019
“We’re going to continue to move these nominations forward,” McConnell said on the floor prior to the votes. “For too long, fairly uncontroversial judicial nominees just like these have been held up and delayed by our Democratic colleagues.”
McConnell and President Trump have made packing the federal courts with extreme right judges one of their top priorities. As of July 11, 2019, the Trump administration has packed the courts to the point that 14% of the federal judiciary now consists of Trump appointees. He’s ranked third among all presidents since Theodore Roosevelt in terms of total number of appointments, and he’s only been in office for two and a half years.
CNN asked zero questions about how a Democratic candidate would handle this new judicial environment in last night’s debate. Activist group American Constitutional Society sent an open letter to the network urging them to get candidates to weigh in and call attention to this issue.
“The takeover of our judiciary goes far beyond the Supreme Court,” the letter reads. “Senate Republicans engaged in unprecedented obstruction of Obama’s judicial nominees––leaving more than 100 vacancies for President Trump to fill. Then, they dismantled every norm, process, and guardrail imaginable to confirm a record number of Trump circuit court judges. Now, they have changed the Senate rules to rubber-stamp Trump’s district court judges, too.
“This week, the Senate will consider 19 Trump district nominees,” the letter continued. “By comparison, in all of 2015-16, McConnell only allowed the consideration of 18 Obama district nominees—the fewest in a two-year Congress since President Truman. Democratic presidential candidates must be asked how they will approach judicial nominations in this new environment and what kinds of judges they will appoint.”
(Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)
Nathan Wellman is a Grit Post contributing editor in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @LIGHTNINGWOW. You can also email him at info AT gritpost DOT com.