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February 8, 2005

Curious about the composition of the federal judiciary

A guest post here at the ACSBlog by Leesa Klepper, former Senate Judiciary Committee Counsel to Senator Patrick Leahy, has me thinking about the make-up of the current federal judiciary that now wields new sentencing power in the wake of Booker.  The Klepper post is focused on the composition of the federal appellate courts (and she asserts that "more than three-quarters of the federal appellate courts in our country are dominated by Republican appointees").  But I am even more interested in a break-down of federal district court judges by appointing presidents, since district judges clearly have the most new sentencing power as a result of Booker.

My hunch is that, despite the presence of many Clinton appointees on the federal district courts, the majority — perhaps the vast majority — of district judges who regularly do sentencings are appointees of either President Reagan or of one of the Presidents Bush.  If that hunch is accurate — and I highly encourage readers in the know to share any data they may have — the distrust of judges expressed by Republicans in Congress (such as Representative James Sensenbrenner and Tom Feeney) is especially curious.  You would think that Republicans would general trust the exercise of sentencing discretion by a judiciary comprised of judges appointed mostly by their own party.

February 8, 2005 at 12:05 PM | Permalink


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And of course, the 8th circuit is the only circuit whose active circuit judges are "dominated" by a majority of Bush-II appointees (6 out of 11).

Posted by: 8th Circuit clerk | Feb 8, 2005 1:08:35 PM

In Texas' Western District the count confirms your theory: nine Republican appointees and four Dems. All the Dems were appointed by Clinton. See http://www.txwd.uscourts.gov/gen_info/judges.asp. Hell, Bush himself appointed a bunch of them; you're right it's curious why he doesn't trust them.

Posted by: Scott | Feb 8, 2005 3:28:37 PM

Sure it's true. GW Bush has had 154 district court appointments and 50 court of appeals appointments (that's about 20% of the district courts and 25% of the courts of appeals judges in total). If a Carter appointee was 45 when he was appointed in say, 1979, he'd be 71 now. Yes, there are active judges who are that old (including a number of our supreme court justices!), but not too many. So, except for the approximately 20-25% of the courts that have clinton appointees (but remember, many clinton appointees aren't exactly soft-on-crimers) just about everyone else is a republican appointee. And, more importantly, just about everyone else has only "known" federal sentencing under the Guidelines.
Of course, that doesn't mean that Republican appointed judges, who have observed the sometimes "severe" guidelines sentences, aren't going to be looking for their time to sentence more "justly" (whether that means giving white collar criminals or first time drug offenders less time or violent criminals or others moretime).

Posted by: District Clerk Battling Booker | Feb 8, 2005 5:43:58 PM

I would contend that the issue is not that Bush et al. don't trust the judiciary. Quite the contrary: they view control of the judiciary as the way to ensure that their current brand of hard-line, neo-conservative politics and policies last long after the electorate inevitably wakes up to what "compassionate conservatism" actually means. The constant rail about "activist" judges is only heard when the decisions are counter to Republican political agenda items, and Feeney, Sensenbrenner, etc., in my opinion, view mandatory minimums and other such legislative judicial control simply as good "tough on crime" electoral politics (and as further ammunition for other judicial areas of concern, i.e. gay marriage). Feeney himself has admitted that mandatory minimums probably need to be rethought given budgetary concerns, but that's quite different from the public message projected by the man.

Posted by: Buckeyelawguy | Feb 8, 2005 9:09:24 PM

A Republican staffer for a House Judiciary Committee recently commented that no matter who appoints the judge, "once they get those robes and that lifetime appointment" they forget their roots. The advantages of appearing hard on crime trumps any loyalty to/ trust in Republican appointed judges. Feeney, Sensenbrenner and the Republican leadership see the Booker remedy as a poke in the eye and are unlikely to let it simmer for too very long. I expect the attack will focus squarely on judges abusing their new discretion, and will be accompanied by anecdotal evidence of judges off the reservation. It's the same old song, sung most recently by Bill Mercer, USA from Montana, whose anecdotal evidence of unwarranted departures in a Sentencing Commission hearing signalled the coming of the Feeney Amendment.

Posted by: Mary | Feb 8, 2005 10:06:53 PM

According to Western Washinton University the breakdown is as follows:

900 Federal Judge Seats.

Nixon 231
Ford 61
Carter 262
Reagan appointed 40% of total 900 positions while in office 378 total (over 2 terms), some seats twice...)3 Supremes (O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy)

Bush appointed 22% of total Fed. bench 189 total Judges in 1 term. 2 Supremes (Souter, Thomas)

Clinton appointed 37% of Bench while in office
362 total judges over 2 terms, 2 Supremes (Breyer and Ginsberg)

Bush (GW) has appoionted 11% of bench 100 total judges in 1/2 term assumed office w/ 99 vacancies - 31 of 179 appeals vacancies. It is the Appeals court judges who are being held up and threated by a filibuster for the first time in 200+ years of the US History.


One interesting note, the last of Truman's judge appointees died in 2000.

Posted by: bulger | Apr 25, 2005 9:54:07 PM

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