It will not take long for a President Donald Trump to make a lasting legacy in this country.
Because of a stalemate between a Democratic president and Republican Congress, a backlog of vacancies on the federal bench has built up. And with the GOP controlling both the Executive and Legislative branches, filling those vacancies with conservative appointees should be swift and easy.
The most prominent vacancy is the one to be filled by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, but there are a total of 104 vacancies and 38 “judicial emergencies” in the federal court system. “Judicial emergencies,” The Daily Caller reports, are when a vacancy has lasted longer than 18 months or when the docket or backlog exceeds a certain limit.
Of the 103 vacancies – not counting Scalia’s vacancy – 13 are on the federal appeals court, 82 are in U.S. District Court and eight are in courts of special jurisdiction, like the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Trump’s Supreme Court appointment will likely preserve the five-four conservative majority the court has had for years (with some caveats). Three other justices are rumored to possibly retire in the next four years. Justice Stephen Breyer is 78, Justice Anthony Kennedy is 80 and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 83. Justice Breyer (appointed by Bill Clinton in 1994) is considered to be in the “liberal” bloc.
The biggest rumor is that Kennedy may be considering retiring soonest. He has only hired one law clerk for the coming term, as opposed to hiring them several years in advance. He also did not teach abroad this summer, as he usually does.
Trump’s most meaningful impact could be on the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It is by far the largest appeals court in the country, covering 61 million Americans (in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) and has the highest Supreme Court reversal rates of all appeals courts.
By the end of the year, there will be four vacancies on the 29-member court bench, with two precipitated by the departure of Democratic-appointees. Four of 29 appointments might not seem like a big number, but it’s more than enough to change the Leftist ideological tilt of the institution.
However, the first battle is the Supreme Court – which may be contentious, even though Republicans control the Senate. Democrats could still maneuver to stall the process, based on the rules of the body.
“My guess is you’re not likely to see a whole lot of nominees, or even any nominees, until the Supreme Court confirmation is over,” said Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law, an expert in federal judicial selection. That process, he added, might not conclude until June.