Trump’s Stealth Coup in Federal Courts
The right is establishing a stranglehold over the federal judiciary that will last for decades
Retention is a problem that has plagued Donald Trump for his entire presidency. His cabinet picks have been notoriously short-lived: He has the highest turnover rate of any president in the past four decades. (The garrulous Anthony Scaramucci didn’t even last a full week as communications director.) Trump’s inability to make his picks stick has been a prime source of schadenfreude for liberals, who are quick to point to the White House’s never-ending game of musical chairs as evidence of its ineptitude. Yet the president may still get the last laugh. One group of his appointees will be around for decades: federal judges.
To date, Trump has made 187 successful appointments to the federal judiciary, accounting for one-fifth of all circuit and district court judges who serve life terms. During the holiday lull in December, while all eyes were on the impeachment hearings, the Senate confirmed 23 of Trump’s judicial picks. Shortly before Christmas, it approved 12 appointments in a single day. On the higher circuit courts, Trump appointees now make up one in four judges, and their median age is 47.
Trump appears to be using two primary criteria for his judicial selections: age and fidelity to conservative principles. The youngest of his nominees, Allison J. Rushing, best exemplifies the philosophy guiding the administration’s picks. Rushing, who is just 37 years old, faced scrutiny for her past work with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as an anti-LGBT hate group. Still, Rushing was confirmed last March with unanimous Republican support.
Three circuit courts that were formerly composed of a majority of Democratic-appointed judges are now controlled by Republican appointees, giving the right the upper hand over seven of 11 circuit courts. Trump further solidified conservatives’ grip on four other benches where Republicans already held firm majorities. Over the past decade, federal courts have thwarted attempts by Republican-controlled states to pass radically conservative legislation on life-or-death issues — voting rights, immigration, abortion, and health care — but with more…