Former President Donald Trump’s legacy may be defined by the courts.
No, not with Trump as a defendant in a case brought by an overzealous liberal prosecutor. Rather, it will be the hundreds of judges that Trump appointed to the federal bench, including three on the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump himself recognized the lasting impact his power to appoint judges would have, especially with then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in charge of ratifying his picks.
“When I got in, we had over 100 federal judges that weren’t appointed,” Trump said during a speech in 2018, according to The Hill. “I don’t know why (President Barack) Obama left that. It was like a big, beautiful present to all of us. Why the hell did he leave that?”
“It was like the gift from heaven. We were left judges,” Trump added. “They are the ones that judge all your disputes. They judge on what’s fair on the environment and what’s not fair. Where they’re going to take your farms and factories away and where they’re not.”
The Pew Research Center noted last month that Trump had appointed 226 total judges, more than a quarter of the entire federal judiciary. Fifty-four of them were on appellate courts, which was one less than Obama appointed with four extra years in office. Pew noted that Trump was able to “flip” some appellate courts to becoming more conservative.
Yet now, with President Joe Biden wielding appointment power, federal judges are starting to step down.
According to reports, roughly two dozen judges have announced they would opt for “senior” status since Biden took over on Jan. 20. That allows Biden to name a successor while keeping them handy for cases on an as-needed basis. He could appoint nearly 50 more in coming months.
Yet Biden, whose base is far more left than that of former President Bill Clinton, will have an opportunity, and be expected, to appoint more progressive judges.
Daniel Goldberg, the legal director for the left-wing group Alliance for Justice, told The Hill, “I think that he already, right off the bat, has an incredible opportunity to improve the cause of justice, that he has a tremendous opportunity to leave his mark by getting on the bench remarkable jurists who are both demographically and professionally diverse and with a demonstrated commitment to equal justice in this country.”
For conservatives, this is a cause for concern. But for now, Biden’s scope will be limited.
For instance, although many of his appointments are expected to be more progressive, Biden in large part will replace Democrats with Democrats. Seventeen of those judges were appointed by President Bill Clinton, reports say.
Additionally, Trump’s proficiency at appointing judges, with McConnell’s help to confirm them, has handcuffed Biden to a degree.
As Fivethirtyeight.com noted last month, “In many ways, Trump’s success in the courts could be a model for future presidents who want to leave their own judicial legacies. But the reality is it will be hard for Biden to replicate what Trump has done. For one thing, Trump came in with a significant number of vacancies to fill. … Biden, on the other hand, has far fewer judges to appoint immediately.”
“And while replacing a slew of left-leaning judges would shore up liberal majorities on some appellate courts and give Biden an opportunity to inject more diversity into the federal judiciary, it won’t undo the overall conservative shift that occurred under Trump,” the website added. “The end result is that the judiciary’s conservative tilt is likely to persist through the first few years of Biden’s presidency, even if it gets somewhat more diverse.”
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