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Trump Likely to Reshape the Federal Courts

It's not just the shape of the U.S. Supreme Court's jurisprudence that President-Elect Donald Trump will get to shape. The Economist reports that he will be able to appoint lawyers to 96 judgeships in district courts and 16 on the nation’s circuit courts. Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution projects that Trump appointments will lead to half of district-court seats being held by Republican appointees.

This is important because "the courts are Democrats’ last refuge in a political system where both houses of Congress, the White House, 32 statehouses and 33 governorships lie in Republican hands," The Economist reports.

Courts Become Top Targets in 2016 Elections

The judicial branch of government has become a flashpoint for political disagreement for the 2016 elections, whether it is federal judicial appointments or elections to state courts, The Kansas City Star's Dave Helling writes.

Legal experts say "politicians have started turning virtually every race into a referendum on the courts, threatening public confidence in an independent, apolitical judiciary." For example, Helling reports about how there is a multimillion campaign over the fates of five Kansas Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of school finance and how there are proposals in Arizona and Washington to change the sizes of both courts in order to exert control over those jurists.

Opinion: Partisan Divide Will Result in Supreme Court Vacancies Staying Vacant

Legal writer Linda Hirshman challenges the assumption that the next president will hold great power over the Supreme Court's makeup. The partisan divide is so deep in Washington that it may be impossible to get Supreme Court nominees confirmed, Hirshman says in this Washington Post opinion piece. The consequence would be that judgments of the lower circuit courts of appeal would stand in case the Supreme Court justices were evenly divided. That would favor liberals because of the "wealth of recent Democratic appointments on the lower courts," Hirshman opines, and also because "much of the conservative heartland is marooned in blue circuits."

Republican-Controlled Senate Confirming Judges At Slowest Rate in 60 Years

The GOP-controlled Senate is confirming federal judges at the slowest rate in 60 years, The Huffington Post's Jennifer Bendery reports. The second-slowest year was in 1953 when the Senate only confirmed a total of nine judges. The Alliance for Justice, a left-leaning group, released a report last week presenting that analysis.

Only six of President Barack Obama's judicial nominations have been voted on by senators in 2015, while 29 of President George W. Bush's nominations were confirmed by this point of his seventh year in office, Bendery reports.

GOP Blocking Dozens of Obama's Court Picks

The legacy that President Barack Obama could leave on the federal judiciary could be diminished because the Republican party is blocking dozens of his court picks, Politico's Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim report: "Democrats believe the GOP is creating an unprecedented expansion of the Thurmond Rule, which holds that the Senate shuts off the confirmation valve of lifetime judicial appointments in July of an election year."

The GOP-controlled Senate is on track this year to confirm the fewest federal judges since 1969, and more than two dozen federal courts have declared emergencies because of excessive caseloads caused by vacancies. Nominations for judges for the home states of Republican senators, however, are moving on the Senate floor.

McConnell: Obama's Circuit Court Nominees Won't Be Confirmed

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the President Obama's nominees to serve on the circuit courts of appeal won't be confirmed anymore, The Huffington Post's Jen Bendery reports. McConnell said on a conservative radio show that "'so far, the only judges we’ve confirmed have been federal district judges that have been signed off on by Republican senators,” and he expects that to be the case through 2016.

However, Luis Felipe Restrepo, a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, has had a hearing scheduled before the Judiciary Committee, and he has the support of Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Kara Stoll, a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, also has been voted out of the Judiciary Committee.

Civil Cases Pile Up in Federal Courts

The number of civil cases awaiting resolution in the federal courts for three years or more has exceeded 30,000 for the fifth time in the past decade, The Wall Street Journal's Joe Palazzolo reports. The number of cases pending is up nearly 20 percent from a decade ago.

The Eastern District for California has a particularly deep backlog, with the number of case filed per judge is almost twice the national average, Palazzolo reports. The backlog has grown because the number of judges hasn't kept pace with the region's population growth and a surge in prisoner lawsuits.

The Judicial Conference of the United States has asked for 68 new judgeships to be created by Congress, including six in California's Eastern District, Palazzolo reports.

Senate Republicans Slow to Act on Judicial Nominees

Senate Republicans, which have been in charge of the legislative chamber since the start of the year, have not confirmed any of President Obama's 16 pending judicial nominees, Huffington Post's Jennifer Bendery reports. U.S. Attorney General nominees Loretta Lynch also has been waiting for a confirmation vote.

Eight of those nominees are for courts facing "judicial emergencies" because the number of cases per judge on those courts is more than 600 or has stayed between 430 and 600 for more than 18 months, Bendery reports.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Bendery the nominees are not moving because Democrats moved to confirm 11 judicial nominees in the lame-duck session at the end of 2014, instead of holding them over and letting new members of Congress review them.

Obama's Judicial Legacy Secured

President Barack Obama has now appointed many more federal judges than his predecessors had by this point in their time in the Oval Office; this will define his presidency long after he is out of office, The Huffington Post's Jennifer Bendery reports: "He'll wrap up his sixth year in office with a grand total of 305 district court and circuit court confirmations -- a tally that puts him well beyond where his predecessors were by this point in their presidencies. ... In total, [President George W.] Bush confirmed 256 district and circuit court nominees after six years in office, Clinton confirmed 302, and President Ronald Reagan confirmed 295."

The higher rate of confirmation of Obama judicial appointees in the Senate is probably because the Democratic-controlled Senate "changed the rules last year to require a simple majority, or 51 votes, instead of 60 votes to advance most judicial nominees," Bendery further reports.

Obama Reshaping Appellate Bench

The New York Times Jeremy W. Peters reports that Democrats have reversed the partisan imbalance on federal appellate courts from one that favored conservatives: "For the first time in more than a decade, judges appointed by Democratic presidents considerably outnumber judges appointed by Republican presidents. The Democrats’ advantage has only grown since late last year when they stripped Republicans of their ability to filibuster the president’s nominees." Democratic appointees hold a majority of seats on nine out of the 13 Courts of Appeals, Peters adds.


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