In October 2020, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speculated that the fifty-four talented, extremely conservative, and exceptionally young, appellate court judges whom then-President Donald Trump and two relatively similar Grand Old Party (GOP) Senate majorities appointed had left the federal appeals courts “out of whack.” Problematic were the many deleterious ways in which Trump and both of the upper chamber majorities in the 115th and 116th Senate undermined the courts of appeals, which are the courts of last resort for practically all lawsuits, because the United States Supreme Court hears so few appeals. The nomination and confirmation processes which Trump and the Republican Senates instituted and the numerous extraordinarily conservative judges whom they confirmed undercut appellate court diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ideology, and experience; the appointments procedures; and citizen respect for this critical responsibility’s discharge, the presidency, the Senate, and the federal bench. Peculiarly important, some cases which Trump appointees have decided show how prescient was Biden’s rather impressionistic answer to a press question regarding the controversial issue of Supreme Court packing, which the nominee afforded near the 2020 presidential election’s conclusion. For example, Trump United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuit confirmees’ judicial decision-making elucidates these propositions. Therefore, Biden promised that his administration would comprehensively remedy those stunning problems.
This essay’s initial section examines the nomination and confirmation procedures initiated by the GOP White House and each of the Republican Senate majorities, which permitted Trump and the chamber to appoint substantial numbers of exceptionally conservative appeals court judges, mainly by contravening, rejecting, or downplaying numerous rules and conventions that prior Presidents and the Senates had applied to felicitously appoint preeminent, moderate, diverse court of appeals jurists. Part one scrutinizes how Trump and the GOP chambers easily nominated and confirmed significant numbers of judges whose opinions could affirm his troubling presidential behavior and concomitantly reject Biden’s efforts that would ostensibly move the nation in better directions.
Segment two evaluates manifold endeavors of Biden’s presidency and the Senate Democratic majority which carefully address Trump circuit appointments’ detrimental impacts. This portion reveals that Biden deployed lessons which the President had extracted from leading responsibilities that he discharged as a Judiciary Committee member and the panel Chair, particularly which implicated Supreme Court nomination and confirmation processes, and from service as Vice President in President Barack Obama’s Administration. Biden has correspondingly relied substantially upon high-ranking executive branch officials with longtime appointments experience, tapping, for example, Ronald Klain as his chief of staff while appointing Dana Remus White House Counsel, from the Obama era while employing numbers of effective selection practices which Presidents Obama and Trump and earlier Republican and Democratic chief executives had instituted.
Part three surveys the consequences for appeal courts of Trump’s judicial appointments efforts and the implications of how President Biden responded. The court selection measures that the Democratic chief executive implemented allowed the White House and the Senate to appoint prominent, comparatively mainstream, diverse jurists, which eclipsed Trump’s record for approving twelve very conservative, accomplished, youthful judges throughout a first presidential year. The considerable success of Biden and the Democratic Senate majority respected their pledges to directly rectify Trump confirmations’ adverse effects, improve numerous critical diversity features, and restore dynamic “regular order” across the judicial appointments process.
The difficulties—particularly appointing rapidly so many accomplished, highly conservative, lifetime jurists, which former President Trump and GOP senators certainly orchestrated—will remain for a significant number of years and Democrats currently possess an exceptionally narrow Senate majority. The concluding portion, accordingly, provides numerous recommendations for how President Biden and the chamber might continue increasing diversity, namely ideological, and revitalizing dynamic regular order to efficaciously improve the federal courts of appeals.
Carl Tobias, How Biden Could Keep Filling the Federal Circuit Court Vacancies, 80 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. Online 1 (2022).