Published in Yahoo News
President Trump has utterly remade the federal judiciary, filling vacancies that had been held open by congressional Republicans during President Barack Obama’s eight years in office. Just two years into his own term, Trump has successfully installed two Supreme Court justices — something it took Obama eight years to do — and appointed 40 circuit court judges, who handle the all-important task of fielding appeals.
But in recent months, the battle over judges has moved to district court, the lowest of three major rungs of the federal judiciary and where most major cases — whether concerning guns or health care — begin (a few of those eventually end up at the Supreme Court, after the appeals process). So far, Trump has successfully appointed 64 district court judges, about the same number as Obama at this point in his first term.
Trump, however, is likely to make dozens more appointments in the coming months, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has made confirming conservative justices a top priority. Losing either the presidency or the Senate majority next year would effectively put an end to that project.
The focus on district courts is a matter of necessity. “There have to be vacancies in order to fill them,” says Mike Davis, a former top Senate Judiciary Committee aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who was chairman of that committee in the previous Congress. “President Trump, Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell did a phenomenal job of filling circuit court vacancies,” said Davis, who now runs the Article III Project, an organization that advocates for a conservative judiciary. The Trump administration now has only five circuit court vacancies to fill.