The judges being appointed by the Trump regime may prove to be a substantially negative force for decades. The judiciary is too often overlooked when policy decisions are examined, and a lot of the horrible judges that have been appointed recently will lend credence to that truth in the months ahead.
If you want to know why Donald Trump’s appointments to the judiciary are so significant, have a look at these numbers.
In 2015, the US supreme court decided approximately 82 cases. In 2016, it was approximately 69. In contrast, the United States courts of appeals decided 52,000 cases in 2015 and 58,000 in 2016. The United States district courts decided 353,000 cases in 2015 and 355,000 in 2016.
While the supreme court is the court of last resort – and the one that attracts most attention – the judicial business of the United States is decided in what are called “the lower courts”. The judges appointed to these courts decide 99.9% of all cases.
Most cases never reach the supreme court. It is the so-called lower courts that play a critical role in deciding a wide range of issues. These judges have decided cases involving voting rights, contraception, privacy, sentencing, prisoner rights, gay rights, immigration, desegregation in schools and housing, employment discrimination, affirmative action, workplace rules, environmental impacts, and many others that shape US society. The impact of their decisions are felt daily by more than 300 million Americans.
This is the background needed to understand the importance of Trump’s judicial nominations during his first year in office. Much has been made of the administration’s legislative failures but Trump’s judicial appointments are calculated to have a more lasting impact on American life than many if not all of his proposed legislative initiatives.
Unlike legislation, these life-time appointments are not reversible. That is why it is so important to scrutinize who he is placing on these benches, and what impact they will have.
There are now approximately 144 vacancies in the federal courts, and Trump has already succeeded in appointing 14 judges, meaning that he began his term with more than 150 vacancies –10% of the federal judiciary.
There is a simple reason this president had so many vacancies to fill at the start of his term – it is called political obstruction. In the final year of the Obama administration, the Republican majority simply refused to confirm many of the president’s nominees.
When Obama took office, 10 of the 13 courts of appeals consisted of predominantly Republican-appointed judges. By the time he left office eight years later, only four of these courts were made up of predominantly Republican-appointed judges.
Trump and his close advisors see this as the principal reason these courts rejected his travel bans, or had earlier rejected efforts to enforce strict voter ID laws, transgender and gay rights, or to limit the availability of contraception coverage and abortion services.
If he can shift the balance of the appellate courts, he believes that he will be able to obtain more favourable rulings on all of these and other key social issues. These rulings could dramatically shape the course of American social and cultural life over the next 30 or 40 years.
As with what else the Trump/Republican government is doing to increase the plight of most people, the judicial appointments are unusually terrible. There’s a Trump judicial nominee that equates denying civil rights to African Americans to denying civil rights to aborted fetuses, and there’s another Trump nominee that supports “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ young people, for instance. That is off the spectrum of cruelly inappropriate in the modern era.
It’s possible for the Congress to remove the appointed judges, but that doesn’t have much historical precedent and it would require a really good Congress anyway. In all, it’s quite telling that the current Senate Majority Leader — a servant of Koch Industries and other grotesque major corporations — named his approval of right-wing judges his biggest “accomplishment.” Notably, the appointment of Neil Gorsuch — an obvious plagiarist — will soon probably show to have a devastating impact, as a Supreme Court case that could significantly damage public sector unions comes up.
Lots of bad news looks to continue in the near future then, but it’s important to remember that there is opportunity in every crisis.