The Least Appreciated Story in Washington
Author: Greg Valliere
May 8, 2019
WITH SEVERAL IMPORTANT CASES on presidential powers headed to the Supreme Court in coming months, it’s worth spending some time this morning on the least appreciated story in Washington — the dramatic shift in the U.S. judiciary, which is veering rightward and will stay very conservative for years to come.
A MILESTONE: With little fanfare, Congress has passed the 100 mark in judicial confirmations during Donald Trump’s presidency — two Supreme Court confirmations, 37 appointments to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and 63 judges for U.S. district courts. Over 100 nominations are vacant; 43 of them have won approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee and are headed for a Senate floor vote this spring.
SPEEDING NOMINATIONS THROUGH THE SENATE has been the greatest priority for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose legacy (and Trump’s as well) may be their imprint on the judiciary. Long after both of them depart, most of their judicial appointees will be in place; a large percentage of the new judges to these lifetime jobs are in their 40s and 50s.
SINCE MANY JUDGES APPOINTED BY DEMOCRATS have been reluctant to leave while a Republican is in office, the shift rightward has been gradual. But one statistic illustrates the impact of winning the White House: 54% of all federal judges have been nominated by Republicans — headed to 60% in the next two years; the figure was 44% when Trump took office.
SUPREME COURT WATCHERS are speculating about vacancies in the next year. Justice Clarence Thomas, 70, the longest-serving current justice, has been mulling retirement and might want to step down while there’s a high likelihood that he will be replaced by a conservative. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 86, is in frail health. And liberal Justice Stephen Breyer will turn 81 this summer; the latter two want to hang on until Trump’s term ends, hoping a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020.
CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS has been more moderate than McConnell had hoped, but he’s part of a fairly reliable 5-4 conservative majority; if Ginsburg departs, a 6-3 Supreme court would have a profound impact on redistricting, reproductive rights, Obamacare, presidential powers, border security, etc. — the heart of GOP’s core issues. And any radical reforms such as eliminating the Electoral College would encounter skepticism at a conservative high court.
WE’RE APPALLED WHEN YOUNG PEOPLE tell us that they don’t care about voting, that it doesn’t make a difference. Oh yes it does, certainly when it comes to the judiciary; the transformation of the courts is a major reason why Trump’s political base will remain fanatically loyal. It’s the least appreciated story in Washington, one that will affect young people well into their middle age.
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