- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2017

Already well on his way to reshaping the federal judiciary, President Trump is following up with the promise of adding more conservative judges to the Supreme Court and key federal appeals courts.

Mr. Trump, who has installed twice as many judges on the federal bench as President Barack Obama had done by the same time in office, announced Friday a list of five more candidates he’ll consider for the next Supreme Court vacancy.

The new list of candidates for the high court includes Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative stalwart on the high-profile U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit who clerked for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, and Judge Amy Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, an outspoken opponent of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Rounding out the list are Judge Britt Grant of the Georgia Supreme Court, Judge Kevin Newsom of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Patrick Wyrick. Judge Grant previously clerked for Judge Kavanaugh on the appeals court.

While there are no vacancies on the high court, there has been persistent speculation about possible retirements, including liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and centrist Justice Kennedy.

The White House said the new candidates, who are added to the president’s original campaign list of 20 potential judicial nominees, are in the mold of Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

“President Trump will choose a nominee for a future Supreme Court vacancy, should one arise, from this updated list of 25 individuals,” the White House said. “The president remains deeply committed to identifying and selecting outstanding jurists in the mold of Justice Gorsuch. These additions, like those on the original list released more than a year ago, were selected with input from respected conservative leaders.”

Judicial Crisis Network chief counsel and policy director Carrie Severino called the new candidates “some of the best and brightest judges in the nation.”

“These men and women have spent years in the trenches of state and federal government fighting for the Constitution and the rule of law,” she said. “They represent a diverse range of backgrounds, including both state and federal judges — three who were former state solicitors general with first-hand experience protecting our constitutional balance of powers.”

In his first year in office, Mr. Trump has already appointed eight federal appeals court judges, the most at this point in a presidency since President Richard Nixon. The Senate is expected to confirm the ninth appellate judicial nominee — former Trump deputy White House counsel Gregory Katsas — within weeks.

The Senate has now confirmed 14 Trump judicial nominees overall. By this point of his presidency in 2009, Mr. Obama had only seven judges confirmed.

Conservative leaders have been pressuring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pick up the pace of judicial confirmations. And the GOP could lose another seat from its thin 52-48 majority next month in Alabama’s special Senate election, where Republican nominee Roy Moore is embroiled in multiple accusations of sexual harassment. He denies the allegations.

White House counsel Don McGahn said Mr. Trump’s judicial nominees demonstrate his commitment to conservative jurists who won’t make new law.

“They have a demonstrated commitment to originalism and textualism … there’s nothing unknown about them,” Mr. McGahn said of the new candidates at a Federalist Society event on Friday. “What you see is what you get. I’m very fortunate to serve a president who is very committed to what we are here, which is nominating and appointing committed originalists and textualists. He’s made good on what he said.”

Mr. Trump has a rare opportunity to reshape the judiciary, inheriting 100 vacancies, twice as many as Mr. Obama inherited. There are currently 160 judicial vacancies, including 18 on appellate courts and 118 on district courts.

“When the history books are written about the Trump administration, I believe perhaps the most long-lasting and significant legacy will be the men and women appointed and confirmed to the federal bench,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

Committee for Justice President Curt Levey said conservatives are “especially pleased” to see Judge Barrett on the president’s new list.

“It sends a clear signal to Democrat senators that anti-Catholic or any other type of religious bias in the appointment of federal judges will not be tolerated,” Mr. Levey said. “The Committee for Justice has been at the forefront of opposing this type of bias dating back to its defense of U.S. Court of Appeals nominee Bill Pryor in 2003, including our ‘Catholics Need Not Apply’ ads, which put Senate Democrats on the defensive after they criticized Pryor for being Catholic, and continues to exert influence as it is still discussed to this day.”

He said Mr. Trump’s new list will “invigorate his supporters by reminding them why they voted for Trump.”

“Polls show that the president’s campaign promise to appoint constitutionalist rather than activist judges, backed up by a list of 21 stellar potential nominees, was a big part of why he was elected,” Mr. Levey said.

As Senate Republican leaders pick up the pace of confirmations, Democrats lost a tactic to throw up roadblocks to Mr. Trump’s nominees last week. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, said he will hold hearings on some nominees even if both home-state senators haven’t given their approval, a traditional courtesy known as the “blue-slip” process.

Mr. Grassley announced he would schedule a hearing for Nov. 29 for Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras, nominated for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, had said in September that he would not return his blue slip for Judge Stras, saying the nominee “would be a deeply conservative jurist in the mold of Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.”

Mr. Franken also found himself in a political furor last week when a Los Angeles radio personality accused him of sexual harassment before he was elected to the Senate. The lawmaker has apologized and said he welcomes an ethics investigation.

Mr. Grassley said that the blue slip tradition was not intended to give senators “veto power” over nominees. 

The Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said Mr. Grassley’s decision “couldn’t be more troubling.”

“The lengths to which Republicans are going to jam extremely conservative and controversial nominees through the Senate is unprecedented,” she said. “What’s happening is diminishing the Judiciary Committee and the Senate and undermining the independence of the federal judiciary.”


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