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June 9, 2017

Reviewing Prez Trump's judicial nomination success so far (and noting Prez Obama's early relative failings)

The New Republic has this notable and important article which highlights one big reason why notable and important members of the GOP are unlikely to defect from Team Trump anytime soon.  The full headline of the article accounts in part for my post title (with my emphasis added): "Trump’s Judicial Picks Are Keeping Republicans Happy — and Quiet: In a rare show of competency, he's tapped five times as many judges as Obama had at this point — and conservatives are delighted." Here are excerpts:

The most critical government document released on Wednesday — the one that’ll have the most wide-ranging impact in the future — was not James Comey’s prepared testimony for the Senate Intelligence Committee about his interactions with Donald Trump.  It was a simple press release, issued by the White House, announcing a “fourth wave” of judicial nominations since the Trump inauguration.  The eleven nominations included four district court judgeships, three for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, three for the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and one for the Court of Federal Claims.  Conservatives were uniformly delighted.

All told, Trump has nominated 22 judges to fill vacancies across the federal bench.  Thus far, only two — Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Sixth Circuit Court Judge Amul Thapar — have been confirmed.  But the prospect of filling vacancies over time explains a lot about why congressional Republicans have stood by Trump, despite the erratic and stormy start to his presidency.  As long as Trump keeps funneling a steady supply of conservative jurists to the Senate, in a bid to dramatically reshape the federal courts, Republicans can go to bed happy that they’re fulfilling at least one major element of their political project.

Judicial nominations are the one area where the Trump administration is “running like a fine-tuned machine,” as the president boasted in February.  In fact, Trump’s team has far outstripped the efforts of his predecessor.  By this date eight years ago, President Obama had made just four judicial nominations: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and three nominations for the Court of Appeals.

It is true that Trump was blessed — thanks mostly to a virtual freeze on judicial confirmations in the last two years of the Obama presidency — with more opportunities than Obama.  According to the American Bar Association, at the beginning of June 2009 there were 72 judicial vacancies; today there are 132.  But even given that, if you want to do this by percentages, President Trump, at this point in his presidency, has nominated replacements for 16.7 percent of all judicial vacancies; President Obama by this time had nominated replacements for just 5.6 percent.

What accounts for this rare outburst of competency from the Trump White House?  Certainly, judicial nominations are a lighter lift than legislation; thanks to changes to the Senate filibuster made by both parties, judges at all levels now need only 50 votes for passage, meaning Republicans can confirm them without Democratic support.  Those rules were still in place in 2009, and throughout Obama’s first term. He did have a filibuster-proof majority for brief periods, from July–August 2009 and September 2009–February 2010.  But the former president certainly had less margin for error....

In the judicial arena, at least, Trump is fulfilling the duty laid out by Grover Norquist when he said that conservatives just need a president “with enough working digits to handle a pen.” His unpopularity and the overarching Russia investigation aside, he’s signing off on the nominations that conservatives want. If Republicans in Congress manage to get their act together on legislation, he’ll sign those bills into law as well. The GOP won’t abandon him because he’s giving them what they want.

I have left out some of the political spin that this article adds to this discussion largely because I think it most worth stressing how relatively successful Prez Trump has been in this arena despite difficulties elsewhere especially in contrast to where the Obama Administration was at this point.  The particular irony, of course, is that Prez Trump was a businessman before getting into politics while Prez Obama was a lawyer and law professor.  But this point may provide an explanation rather than an irony: Prez Trump may be much more willing to accept and move forward with judicial recommendations from others than Prez Obama might have been.  (Also, the Trump team gave themselves a kind of running start by putting together a SCOTUS possibilities list during the 2016 campaign.)

June 9, 2017 at 02:02 PM | Permalink


Your general sense of the matter is the same as mine, Doug. Trump doesn't care about judges so much...given that his sister is a judge and given his temperament I suspect he sees judging as woman's work. He is perfectly happy to do exactly what others tell him to do when it comes to nominations.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 9, 2017 2:38:21 PM

Just love to bash Obama.

Posted by: whatever | Jun 9, 2017 3:06:49 PM

Republicans could filibuster lower court judges.

Obama easily enough got Sotomayor on the Court after Souter resigned in 2009.

Obama also had various other things to do early in his presidency. Singling out one thing Trump is doing is misleading. But, this blog is specifically concerned about a narrow number of things, so yes, it would tend to do that.

Yes, Trump appears quite willing to delegate this thing and since his party controls the Senate w/o a filibuster in place to have to deal with, the Administration apparently is more speedy. McConnell very well might be working behind the scenes to help there.

The "failings" and "successes" of both side is "relative," yes.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 9, 2017 3:31:05 PM

"The particular irony, of course, is that Prez Trump was a businessman before getting into politics while Prez Obama was a lawyer and law professor."

I don't know really how particularly relevant this is. Obama was probably in general likely to be more hands on. And, conservatives were particularly concerned about judicial nominees, the Scalia seat alone a significant factor in various Republican victories.

As to his short list, I'm sure there were various "lists" behind the scenes.

I'm not saying that Republicans aren't more concerned and ahead of the curve in some fashion here, but there are lots of factors involved. Simply not having to worry about a filibuster is a major difference. Obama could have put people up faster, but he knew there was a great chance they would simply be blocked repeatedly. This changes the weighing of limited political capital and resources.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 9, 2017 3:40:14 PM

"Obama also had various other things to do early in his presidency."

Lamest excuse ever.

Posted by: justme | Jun 9, 2017 5:04:18 PM

Keep in mind that two nominees that will be confirmed this month are former Obama nominees . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Jun 9, 2017 5:37:16 PM

"Obama also had various other things to do early in his presidency."

There was a little financial crisis. Bush efforts to deal with via a 2 page bill that allowed $700 billion to be deployed needed some work.

Posted by: Paul | Jun 9, 2017 5:58:29 PM

No doubt inherited big problems. He ticked of the Gop when he shoved Obamacare down their throats. But, he still managed to remain articulate and handle himself well.

Trump needs to stop tweets, trying to over turn anything with Obamas name on it, stop being overly concerned about his popularity.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Jun 9, 2017 10:12:01 PM

I look forward to the day when lawyers will never be nominated to any bench, and banned from all benches. All lawyers are totally disqualified. We need professional judges. Until they are educated and produced, any random member of the jury pool would do a much better job.

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 9, 2017 10:46:57 PM

Buchenwald is coming to a city near you.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jun 10, 2017 11:24:34 AM

Lib. All German judges collaborated with the Nazis, save one. He was offered retirement or a bullet. Judges, there is almost nothing lower in morals.

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 10, 2017 5:48:28 PM

I would add that big picture also gives me mixed at best support of how Trump is using his executive power. There were some problems with how Obama handled things there. But, you take the bitter and the sweet there. It's easier with Republicans in control of the Senate etc., but there is value in skillful delegation. It is a lesson for future Democratic Presidents, including the value of having a basic plan in place, though events might interfere with it. Again, it helps if you have the legislature on your side with the minority not having as much power over a certain area.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 11, 2017 11:09:47 AM

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