Packing The Courts While We Aren’t Paying Attention

Don’t count me among those who are giving credit to Mitch McConnell for trying to ditch Roy Moore. Five minutes ago, McConnell was trying to get the lawless theocrat elected. Nor will I give credit to most of the other Republicans who have spoken against Moore. Almost to a man, and woman, they all were recently rooting for Moore (Sen. Flake, excepted) to win and, thus, help the GOP screw the working class by raining tax cuts on the wealthy. A few truly courageous victims of Moore’s white evangelical Christian virtues spoke up and changed the dynamics of the Alabama special election and, essentially, forced national Republicans to say what they should have said a long time ago.

Missouri’s Republican senator, Roy Blunt, finally chimed in:

Alabama voters should have a better choice, and Judge Moore should have better answers to these charges.

Blunt had no problem with the Orange Predator during last year’s presidential election. He didn’t demand that Tr-mp “have better answers” to the 20 or so women who accused him of either sexual assault or sexual harassment. Nope. When Tr-mp denied the charges, when he claimed “locker room talk,” Blunt was on board. The evidence against Tr-mp was at least as compelling as the evidence against Roy Moore. But Blunt, like his colleagues throughout Congress, was all-in on Tr-mp. All. In. And Tr-mp has done, and continues to do, more damage to the country than a Senator Moore could ever dream of doing. Yet, Blunt and McConnell and nearly all Republicans who matter are hard at work aiding and abetting Tr-mp’s disastrous reign—especially when it comes to federal judges and our courts.

Julia Ioffe, who just exposed Tr-mp Junior’s collusion with WikiLeaks-Russia, was on television this morning explaining the un-American behavior of the second creepiest Tr-mp in the family. At one point, Ioffe mentioned how all the craziness surrounding Tr-mp amounted to “flooding the zone,” while he and Republicans in the U.S. Senate are able to quietly “pack the courts.” Huh? You mean Tr-mp is getting something done besides trashing the Constitution and the environment? Is he packing the courts, too?

Hell yes, he is.

Over the weekend, Charlie Savage wrote an eye-opening article for The New York Times (“Tr-mp Is Rapidly Reshaping the Judiciary. Here’s How.”). Savage began with Donald McGahn’s “secret battle plan to fill the federal appeals courts with young and deeply conservative judges.” That plan was formulated during the transition, before McGahn became Tr-mp’s White’s House counsel. Savage wrote:

Mr. McGahn, instructed by Mr. Trump to maximize the opportunity to reshape the judiciary, mapped out potential nominees and a strategy, according to two people familiar with the effort: Start by filling vacancies on appeals courts with multiple openings and where Democratic senators up for re-election next year in states won by Mr. Trump — like Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania — could be pressured not to block his nominees. And to speed them through confirmation, avoid clogging the Senate with too many nominees for the district courts, where legal philosophy is less crucial.

Savage pointed out just how successful the plan has been. Tr-mp is on a record-setting pace in getting his judges through the process. But there is a very dark side to how Tr-mp is able to set records and shape the judiciary:

Republicans are systematically filling appellate seats they held open during President Barack Obama’s final two years in office with a particularly conservative group of judges with life tenure.

Yes. For two years Republicans cheated Obama out of his right to appoint such judges. Actually, they cheated him and us. They essentially nullified our votes, when it came to shaping the judiciary. And they treated Obama like three-fifths of a president. Sure, we all saw Republicans openly and unashamedly steal a Supreme Court vacancy from the two-term uppity black man in the White’s House. We saw Neil Gorsuch wither on the Senate’s vine. But not many people knew about all those appellate judges Obama did not get to appoint. Not many people knew that Obama did not get to make as big a mark on the judiciary as he was entitled to make, as we were entitled to expect as his voters.

And we have Mitch McConnell, who some people are lauding over his throwing shade on Roy Moore, to thank for it.

I waited and waited for media outlets to pick up on an interview McConnell did two Sundays ago with right-wing nut Hugh Hewitt. But I couldn’t find a single television segment or a single news article about it. I suppose it was crowded out by the massacre of praying Christians in Texas and other outrages. But while our attention has been turned to mass shootings and collusion with Russia and Tr-mp embarrassing us abroad, our children’s future is being placed in the hands of reactionary judges, some qualified to do the dirty work and some not. Here’s what McConnell had to say to Hugh Hewitt:

MITCH MCCONNELL: There were 1,200 executive branch appointments subject to confirmation in the Senate. I not only didn’t allow the Supreme Court vacancy to be filled during the last year of Barack Obama, I also didn’t allow a lot of other federal judgeships to be filled. So when President Trump got elected, and we held our majority, we had the largest number of federal judicial vacancies to be filled since the early 1950s. And the President is sending up spectacular nominees. Barack Obama only had 60 Democrats in the Senate, got three circuit judges in his first year. We did four the week you and I are talking. We had already done four. That’s eight. And we’ll do more before the end of the year. In conjunction with the President and his spectacular White House counsel, Don McGahn, we are making permanent, long lasting changes to the federal judiciary.

If that doesn’t piss you off, if that doesn’t make your blood boil, then try this:

HUGH HEWITT: And so these 21 federal circuit vacancies that were inherited are almost as important as the Supreme Court. Are you satisfied that the White House is moving fast enough, because while there are 21 vacancies, there have only been 14 nominees, only 11 with their paperwork done. You confirmed eight. You’ll get the other three done. But we still got another ten nominees to come up to you.

MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah, I am convinced they’re moving fast enough. It takes a while to do the vetting and to get them in the pipeline. And now the pipeline is beginning to fill up. And we’re not going to be a bottleneck up here in the Senate. As you’ve noticed, as soon as the circuit judge comes out of committee, I call them up. I’m in charge of the schedule. I’ve got to choose what to bring up. Confirmation of circuit court judges is my top priority. As they come out of the committee, they will be called up.

In case you don’t know why the various U.S. Courts of Appeals are, except in rare cases, more important than the Supreme Court, there were over 50,000 federal appeals filed in the 12-month period ending June 30 of this year. Think about that. Thousands of decisions are issued by those courts and how many do you suppose are reviewed by the nine justices on the Supreme Court? Here’s what the Court itself says:

The Court receives approximately 7,000-8,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari each Term.  The Court grants and hears oral argument in about 80 cases.

Appeals Court statisticsThousands and thousands of decisions are made by federal appellate judges without review by the Supreme Court. That’s why Republicans are so giddy about what McConnell and Tr-mp are doing. As I said, conservative zealots are literally mucking up the future for our kids and grandkids. And it isn’t just at the appellate level. The zealots are advancing unqualified people to the federal district courts, too. The latest has made a splash on some news outlets:

A 36-year-old lawyer who has never tried a case and who was unanimously deemed “not qualified” by the American Bar Association has been approved for a lifetime federal district judgeship by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That Times article quotes Kristine Lucius of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She said it was “unprecedented” to have so many unqualified nominees for the district court. She added:

When you think of how much power a district court nominee has over life and death decisions every day, it’s really irresponsible to put someone on with that little experience.

Yes, it is irresponsible. And, given how we got to this point, given that many of these appointments were stolen from President Obama, it is unforgivable.

So, the next time you hear some pundit giving Mitch McConnell or some other Republican credit for doing the right thing on Roy Moore, remember that almost all Republicans supported and still support a pussy-grabbing, court-packing Tr-mp, whose damaging court picks—most of them white men—will be around long after he is gone.

federal appeals courts by president

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