Though the headlines are often stolen by healthcare and tax reform, President Trump's most enduring legacy could be his appointments to the judiciary, as he himself pointed out in a press conference with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell this past Monday:
The judge story is an untold story. When you think about it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge, but 40 years out.
Trump's nominations to the court system have greatly outpaced those of Barack Obama. How is this possible? Well, you may remember Mitch McConnell's efforts in 2016 to deny a confirmation hearing for Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. McConnell, publicly claiming he thought a President in his last year of office shouldn't be making a Supreme Court appointment, destroyed any chances of Garland getting a seat on our highest court. Critics called it a blatantly partisan move that undercut the functionality of our government, while supporters bit their tongue at the opportunity to appoint a more conservative judge in the event of a Republican presidential victory. It went largely unnoticed that McConnell was using similar tactics to block judges for the last two years of Obama's Presidency, leaving a huge number of vacancies for Trump to fill when he entered office.
To maintain these vacancies, McConnell drew on both his party's majority and a tradition known as the "blue slip," where senators from the native state of a nominated judge had veto power. Now that a Republican holds the Presidency, however, McConnell has openly suggested eliminating this practice, saying blue slips should "simply be a notification of how you intend to vote." He was pretty open about the reason for his change of heart — he worries that Democrats could blackball GOP nominees from their home states. Democrats are alarmed at the number of appointments coming out of Trump's White House, and believe the tactics which made them possible are more than a little shady.
Christopher Kang, who worked on Presidential nominations under Obama, told Politico:
The only fact conservatives can honestly cite is the high number of vacancies — but that is immediately undercut because Republicans are the ones who created it by confirming only 22 judges last Congress, the fewest since President Truman, including only two circuit judges.
But what's even more alarming than the sheer number of judicial nominees is some of their controversial opinions and histories. Charles Goodwin, despite receiving a "not qualified" designation from the American Bar Association, has been nominated to a federal bench in Oklahoma. Jeff Mateer was nominated as a Texan federal judge, though he has in the past referred to transgender children as evidence of "Satan's plan." CNN also discovered past comments from Mateer that implied the Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage was a "disgusting" choice that could lead to bestiality.
Texas Senator John Cornyn's problem wasn't these belief's however, so much as the fact Mateer didn't bring them up sooner:
But the problem is, for me, is the failure to disclose the information up front so we can then talk about that. We want to make sure, fundamentally, everybody has access to fair and equal justice and it’s important that, notwithstanding the opinions that people may have about various subjects, that they separate that from what their job as a judge would be.
John Bush, another Trump nominee who has already been confirmed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, has become the center of a controversy due to his appalling blog posts, some of which state that slavery and abortion were the “two greatest tragedies in our country." He claims these two things "relied on similar reasoning and activist justices." On his blog, he also provided links to conspiracy websites that questioned whether President Barack Obama was born in America.
Brett Talley, an Alabama nominee who also has a penchant for blogging, has urged those who read his blog to join the National Rifle Association (NRA), and called the gun-control legislation proposed following the Sandy Hook shooting the "greatest attack on our constitutional freedoms in our lifetime."
Despite expressing some reservations about questionable qualifications, no Republican senators have yet voted against a Trump judicial nominee, leaving Democrats with very few options besides basic protest. Democrats voted to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for most nominees about four years ago, but liberals in Congress are now witnessing their worst-case scenario associated with that political move: conservatives nominating controversial, unqualified candidates to the judiciary, with the left powerless to stop them.
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee, commented:
I think the very questionable caliber of President Trump’s judicial nominees demonstrates his contempt for the rule of law and the quality of the American judiciary. It’s a pattern that emerges clearly from his public statements and through his nominees that he puts politics first in catering to the far right and quality eighth or ninth, if at all.
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