One of the biggest successes of Donald Trump’s presidency was the rightward shift of the federal court system with his conservative and originalist judicial appointments.
That success could be partially undone, if not reversed altogether under President Joe Biden, particularly on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, as reports indicate that a growing number of judges are eyeing retirement to make room for new left-leaning appointees, the Washington Examiner reported.
The 9th Circuit, which has broad jurisdiction over nine Western states, was dominated by liberal judges until Trump was able to balance out the ideological makeup of the court with ten confirmed appointments. With Biden at the helm, that may be reversed.
In November, the Los Angeles Times reported that several 9th Circuit judges appointed by former President Bill Clinton were waiting for Trump to leave office so they could be replaced by Biden.
Those judges are specifically looking at taking “senior status,” a sort of semi-retirement that allows them to continue working part-time while a younger and presumably ideologically aligned replacement is appointed, vetted and confirmed by the Senate.
One reason there was a delay in these judges stepping back was the unknown of which party would control the confirmation process in the Senate.
That question was answered in January with the Georgia run-off races in which both Democrats won, creating a 50-50 split chamber with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker vote for Democrats.
Room for new Biden appointees
Nevertheless, the Times noted that Trump’s impact on the federal courts will be a legacy that lasts for decades to come and not easily reversed by Biden, given that most of Trump’s appointees are relatively young and will serve life terms on the bench.
What Biden can do, however, is replace older liberal judges with younger ones and, in some cases, nominate replacements for older Republican-appointed judges who retire or pass away over the next few years.
According to a separate report from the Washington Examiner, that process has already begun, as a slew of older liberal judges in various circuits across the country announced senior status or retirement in the days and weeks following Biden’s inauguration.
Those new vacancies come on top of the 57 vacancies Biden needed to fill upon entering office, a substantial number that was roughly half of the 117 vacancies to be filled by Trump in 2017 when he was first sworn in.
As for the 29-member 9th Circuit, the Examiner noted that prior to Trump, it had an 11-seat majority of Democrat over Republican appointees but after Trump, that Democrat lead had been trimmed to just a three-seat advantage. That means the once-predominately liberal 9th Circuit is now largely an evenly-split centrist court. How long it will remain balanced, or if Biden will get the chance to swing it back toward the left is something that only time will tell.