Donald Trump is radically reshaping the same federal courts that have been the biggest bulwark against his agenda by picking mostly white, conservative men
Donald Trump has sustained more than his fair share of political losses during the first 10 months of his presidency, mostly at the hands of the federal courts.
It was the federal courts that struck down his Muslim travel ban on three separate occasions, that blocked his ban on trans people in the military and that did the same to his attempt to defund so-called sanctuary cities.
But the makeup of Americas judges is quietly becoming the site of one of Trumps most unequivocal successes: nominating and installing judges who reflect his own worldview at a speed and volume unseen in recent memory. Trump could conceivably have handpicked more than 30% of the nations federal judges before the end of his first term, his advisers have suggested, and independent observers agree.
The president himself has said that he expects this to be one of his major legacies. He is going to reshape the bench for generations to come, said Douglas Keith, counsel with the fair courts arm of the Brennan Center for Justice.
I do think this deserves more attention given the consequence, the significance of what will eventually be a wholesale change among the federal judiciary, he continued.
Much has been made of Trumps failure to get legislation through Congress and received wisdom suggests that he has little to show for his first 10 months in power. However, the lasting impact that court picks have on the lives of Americans means that Trumps choices and the sheer numbers involved will help reshape America for the next half-century.
Until recently little attention has been paid to Trumps judicial appointments. But Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and a member of the Senate judiciary committee, identified the importance of these appointments early on. In June he said: This will be the single most important legacy of the Trump administration. They will quickly be able to put judges on circuit courts all over the country, district courts all over the country, that will, given their youth and conservatism, have a significant impact on the shape and trajectory of American law for decades.
The lack of diversity in Trumps picks was highlighted by the Associated Press. They ran the numbers on the 58 people nominated by the Trump administration to lifetime positions on appeal courts, district courts, and the supreme court. Of those, 53 are white, three are Asian American, one is Hispanic and one is African American.
Forty seven are men and 11 are women.
Since a disproportionate percentage of non-white Americans find themselves at the sharp end of the judicial system this means that in many cases it will be white male judges passing judgment on Americans of color. They will also have extensive input on all manner of civil rights, environmental, criminal justice and other disputes across the country.
All presidents appoint federal judges who are philosophically aligned with their own party and ideology. Casual observers will be familiar with how this dynamic plays out in relation to supreme court nominees, the rarefied picks that most presidents only make a handful of times. But supreme court justices represent just a small percentage of the broader federal judiciary, with roughly 850 seats in regional federal courts nationwide. In many cases, it is these jurists that have the final say on the law of the land in the US, since the supreme court only hears a relatively small number of cases every year.
And for these posts, Trumps candidates have been whiter, more male and, according to the American Bar Association, less qualified than any incoming cohort in decades.
I think the goal is to end the progressive state as we know it, said Baher Azmy, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a progressive-leaning legal advocacy group.