The Senate confirmed Michael Park to be a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, making him the 39th circuit court judge to be confirmed under President Trump in a process on a record pace that is steadily reshaping the bench.
Judge Park joins Joseph Bianco, confirmed earlier this week, on that bench, bringing the number of Republican-appointed active judges on the chief 2nd Circuit panel to six.
With two more vacancies by this summer as judges take senior status, Mr. Trump will soon have a chance to flip control of the circuit, which currently has seven Democratic appointees.
Mr. Trump flipped the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year, taking it from a 7-4 Democratic edge in judicial appointees in 2017 to a 7-6 Republican edge among active judges.
The circuit courts are below the Supreme Court but, because so few cases end up before the justices, the circuits are where many consequential cases are decided.
That makes Republicans’ focus on circuit judge confirmations huge, both sides say.
“It’s a generational change. This president is reshaping the courts for a generation, and thank goodness that he is because we need pro-Constitution, rule-of-law judges. It’s an extraordinary opportunity,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who joined the Judiciary Committee this year.
Eleven circuits cover specific regions of the country. The 2nd Circuit, for example, has jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York and Vermont. The 9th Circuit handles cases in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
One circuit has specific jurisdiction over the District of Columbia and handles many cases directly involving the federal government. Another, the Federal Circuit, hears cases on specific topics.
Before Mr. Trump took office, Democrats had a 90-71 advantage in appointments of active judges among all the circuits. Republican-appointed judges now lead by a 90-83 margin.
Democrats say Mr. Trump has moved too hastily by putting people on the bench who shouldn’t be there.
“The 2nd Circuit has a really deeply entrenched tradition of having great jurists, and unfortunately Trump has broken that,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat.
Mr. Blumenthal said he wants a bigger say in Mr. Trump’s choices for his state’s circuit and that Connecticut has a judicial selection committee to make recommendations.
“We have been in touch with the White House, and I’m very hopeful they will respect the recommendations that we make,” he said.
Mr. Trump crossed the mark for 100 judicial confirmations last week, which is not a record. Most of those are at the district court level.
Where Mr. Trump has set records is the circuit courts, where Judge Park was the 39th confirmation.
President Obama had seated 18 federal appeals court judges at this point in his tenure.
Mr. Trump has also won confirmation of two Supreme Court justices.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has been instrumental in shepherding the president’s nominees. He called the judicial confirmations his top priority.
He has used the “nuclear option” twice to alter Senate rules to facilitate confirmations, first to lower the threshold for overcoming a filibuster of Supreme Court picks and this year to cut the amount of time allowed for post-filibuster debate on district court nominees.
Mr. McConnell said, though, that Democrats are still creating roadblocks. He pointed to Judge Bianco, who was confirmed on a 54-42 vote.
“So are we looking at a controversial person? Are we looking at an individual that senators agonized over and painstakingly studied? Judge Bianco brings a unanimous ‘well-qualified’ rating from the ABA. He’s already served as a judge for 13 years in the Eastern District of New York,” Mr. McConnell said.
“Oh, and by the way, he was confirmed to that position by voice vote,” the majority leader said.
Mr. McConnell pointed out that one of those supporters 13 years ago was Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, who called Judge Bianco “outstandingly qualified and well respected.”
“Fortunately, at the end of the day, the outcome is the same. Judge Joseph Bianco, along with a slate of other well-qualified nominees, is now on the job,” Mr. McConnell said.
Democrats said Mr. McConnell and the Senate’s Republican majority are trying to pack the courts with judges they say are outside the mainstream in order to further the president’s political agenda.
“Their goal in life practically is to change as many of the circuits to have all of these ideologically oriented judges sitting there for life,” said Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat.