Thanks to President Donald Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently became the third circuit court to flip from a majority of Democratic to Republican appointees as of late November 2019. On top of this, within three years of being in office, Trump has appointed over 150 judges, including over 50 judges to the circuit court. Compared to his predecessors like Obama, who only appointed 55 circuit Judges his entire presidency, Trump is setting a new record in the number of judges he is appointing. Indeed, Trump is remaking the federal judiciary at a historic rate. These moments raise serious questions about the balance of the court and whether or not politics has infected a branch that has traditionally been required to avoid partisanship.
At the same time, the Supreme Court has had a few recent brushes with partisanship. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a dissent following the federal governements request in the Supreme Court case regarding immigration (Wolf v Cook County). This is due to the fact that the majority conservative Supreme Court bench has been repeatedly granting the Executive branch’s requests in judicial matters without any input from the public, just as it has done in this immigration case. Justice Sotomayor’s comments struck at the belief that the bench in becoming more politicized. The ongoing June Medical Services v. Russo case can be seen as an important test as it is the first major abortion case taken up by Trump’s Supreme Court appointees and involves central conservative and liberal values concerning abortion rights.
For some, Trump’s aggressive tactics in appointing a lion’s share of conservative judges show how he has no respect for checks and balances that are fundamental to governance. He is outright abusing the system. By appointing so many conservative judges, his administration can be more sure that all across the nation, when it comes to judicial issues, conservative agendas will be enforced (even after Trump is no longer in office). His administration is also abusing the system by using their executive influence in swaying the court’s opinions. This was the central point of Sotomayor’s comments and dissent, which should not be taken as a personal attack on Trump. He is going to the Supreme Court, where he knows he has a majority, to push through policies that wouldn’t pass the muster in Congress.
Others take a less alarmist view. There is nothing that bars the President or his administration from acting the way they have. There is nothing in the Constitution or otherwise that states that he has a maximum limit to how many judges he can appoint. The President is just doing what his predecessors have done and what the Constitution gives him the prerogative to do. Moreover, It is inappropriate for Justices like Sotomayor to publicly disparage the president and thus break the non-partisan veil that the Supreme Court and other Courts should have.
The courts are an important check on both the executive and legislative branches, so it is important that they avoid partisanship. Also, the judicial appointments any president makes will have an impact that far outlasts 8 years in office, so stacking the courts for favorable results threatens to cheat people out of justice for years to come.
What we want to know at Quibbl:
Will President Trump continue to appoint conservative judges to the circuit cour of appeals, as he had done within the last 3 years of his presidency? Vote here.
Will he appoint any more judges before the democratic nominee is chosen in 2020? Vote here