Did somebody say judges?
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is pushing senior members of the federal bench to retire so that President Donald Trump can fill their seats, according to a recent report from the New York Times. It’s just the latest effort by the Republican lawmaker to stack the judiciary with conservative judges.
McConnell has made clear that that nominating judges to the bench is one of his top priorities — and he’s apparently intent on making the most of his Senate majority. With just months to go before the November election, McConnell has been courting senior Republican judges appointed by Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush to step down so that Trump can ensure that they are replaced by conservatives, according to the Times.
Majority in jeopardy?
The push indicates that Republicans want to get ahead of the possibility of Trump losing the White House or that Republicans losing the Senate in November. Since Trump rose to power, he and McConnell have shepherded over 190 judges to lifetime appointments, a historic number for a first-term president.
Trump’s appointments so far include roughly a quarter of all appellate judges and two Supreme Court justices, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. The appellate courts are just one rung below the Supreme Court and wield enormous influence. The president has flipped several of them around the country, and his efforts have even made headway on the notoriously thorny 9th circuit, which has jurisdiction over much of the western United States.
Trump could soon get the chance to replace Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who sits on the second most powerful court in the country, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Griffith said in September that he plans to retire.
However, it’s unclear how effective McConnell’s pressure campaign will be, Republican Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) of the Senate Judiciary Committee said. “Federal judges have very strong independent streaks, and you can’t make them do it,” Cornyn said. “Unless they see some benefits to themselves, I don’t expect people to do it.”
Ongoing battle over the courts
Trump’s successful court packing has alarmed progressives, who fear that the president may leave an imprint on important court decisions long after he leaves office, but conservatives have been heartened by the impressive trend. Democrats have frequently complained about McConnell’s procedural tactics, especially his decision to block consideration of then-President Barack Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016.
“Senator McConnell knows he can’t achieve any of his extreme goals legislatively, so he continues to attempt to pull America to the far right by packing the courts,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said of McConnell’s reported push.
Schumer, ironically, was recently under fire for attempting to intimidate Supreme Court justices into voting his way on a significant abortion case. The Democrat has not apologized for warning that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh would pay some kind of “price” if they make a politically unacceptable decision.
For his part, McConnell has been clear that he will not let anything get in the way of filling vacant seats, including his own prior rationale for rejecting Garland’s nomiation, namely that it occurred in the midst of a presidential election year.
“I’d point you back to his long-running mantra of ‘leave no vacancy behind,’” McConnell spokesman David Popp said of the majority leader’s intentions.