Don’t look now, but while Democrats (and some goofy Republicans) continue to push Russian conspiracy stories, President Trump is advancing his Greatness Agenda through court appointments like wildfire. The Senate on August 1 confirmed Kevin Newsom to the 11th Circuit, joining Sixth Circuit Judges Amul R. Thapar and John K. Bush as confirmed Trump appointees. Ralph Erickson has already had his hearing and should be confirmed soon for the Eighth Circuit.
To date in his administration, Trump has outpaced Barack Obama and Bill Clinton with his judicial appointees. Trump has so far had confirmed one Supreme Court justice (Neil Gorsuch) and three circuit court nominees. Only four presidents have had a Supreme Court appointment in his first year. At this same point, Ronald Reagan had no Supreme Court justices and no circuit court nominees confirmed—his first wasn’t confirmed until September 19, 1981, although he finished with eight circuit justices confirmed in his first year. Trump could well surpass the pace of both Richard Nixon, who had one Supreme Court pick and 10 circuit judges confirmed, and Jimmy Carter (no Supreme Court justices but 10 circuit court choices confirmed) by the end of the year.
There are a number of outstanding nominations waiting to be voted on now, but they appear to be moving fast. For example, Amy Barrett from Notre Dame was just given the “blue slip” of approval by U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), indicating her confirmation is imminent. Several Democrats have yet to return their blue slips, but there is no reason to think they won’t. In the Fifth Circuit, Trump has four nominations, plus one to the D.C. circuit, one to the Eighth, and one to the 11th (a vacancy in Georgia that just came up). Even assuming blue slips aren’t returned for Judges Joan Larsen, David Stras, Allison Eid, or Professor Stephanos Bibas, Trump could still rack up an astounding 13 confirmations in his first year. Only John F. Kennedy, with 14 (plus Byron White to the Supreme Court) had more.
Most of Trump’s nominees are young. Newsome is 45; Thapar, 50, and a Supreme Court short-lister; Bush is 52. Judge Erickson is on the way, almost certain to be confirmed. There are four Fifth Circuit vacancies (three current and one in October when Judge E. Grady Jolly assumes senior status); one Seventh Circuit (Amy Coney Barrett, whose blue slip has been returned, and her hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, August 8, ensuring confirmation); one in the Eighth Circuit (two Republican senators are supportive, although one—Ben Sasse of Nebraska—has been a pain in Trump’s neck and, like John McCain, could torpedo the pick); one in the Ninth Circuit; one in the 11th Circuit when Judge Frank Hall will assume senior status when her—yes, her—successor is confirmed); and one in the D.C. circuit, who will likely be Greg Katsas. In short, if Trump sends up the rest of the other 13 soon, he could match Reagan’s record with 13 confirmations.
District court judges are a different matter because of cloture requirements. And even with this blistering pace, Trump’s work is cut out for him. Obama nominated 329 judges who were confirmed (121 unanimously), and only 105 of them were challenged. All of six Obama nominees were rejected as a result of Republican filibusters. Obama withdrew them. Newsom’s vote
was 66-31, indicating there will still be Democrat obstruction. At this rate, though, it won’t matter. After a year of Trump in the White House, the U.S. judiciary will have made a sharp, decisive turn to the right. Contrary to the predictions of some NeverTrumpers—that Trump would betray conservatives on judges—Trump is embarrassing them with one solid appointee after another.