On today’s Morning Joe, Steven Rattner presented charts showing that amidst front page issues like North Korea and the tax bill, less attention is being paid to one of President Trump’s more significant “successes”: appointing judges, many of them younger, most of them white and several of them demonstrably unqualified. This is of great importance in large part because these are lifetime appointments.
This chart compares the judicial scorecard for Trump’s first year to President Obama’s. Both men were successful in putting a justice on the Supreme Court: Neil Gorsuch by Trump and Sonia Sotomayor by Obama. But at the critical appeals court level, Trump has nominated 19 judges and gotten 12 confirmed while Obama had nominated 15, of whom only 3 had been confirmed.
On the surface, the change to requiring 50 votes for confirmation rather than 60 votes would appear to have affected the rate of confirmation. But the Democrats had 60 seats in the Senate in 2009 so a bigger factor was a decision by the Republicans not to allow Senators from either party to block nominees to courts overseeing their states (the so-called “blue slips.”)
And this fast pace is just the beginning. Trump will have an unusual opportunity to transform the appeals court. The average age of those serving is now 66, the highest of any first-year president since before Nixon. Almost half – 44% — of the judges have reached senior-eligible status, meaning that they can retire.
At the district court level, Trump has also nominated far more judges than Obama (55 to 20) but so far, only 6 of Trump’s picks have been confirmed, compared to 9 for Obama. That’s because Republicans have continued to honor “blue slips” for district court appointments and the Democrats have been using other delaying techniques to slow the confirmation process.
Notably, Trump’s appointees are far less diverse than those of his recent predecessors, including some Republicans. For example, 91% of his nominees have been white, the highest percentage since Reagan. And 81% have been male, more than George W. Bush and the same as George H.W. Bush. In both categories, the recent Democratic presidents (Clinton and Obama) put forward a far more diverse group of candidates.
Trump’s approach to the judiciary has been carefully crafted to include emphasizing younger candidates, who can serve for several decades. His average nominee is just above 50 years of age, younger than all of the last three presidents. George H.W. Bush also appointed younger judges and Reagan’s selections were about the same age as Trump’s.
Finally, Trump has appointed a number of judges of questionable qualification. He has had to withdraw three nominees. One, for example, was an expert in election law and could not answer basic questions about courtroom procedure. Another had once described transgender children as proof of “Satan’s plan.” A third had defended the early KKK under a pseudonym. And he has had four nominees rated as “unqualified” by the American Bar Association.