Say what you will about Donald Trump’s presidency so far, but his record on judicial appointments is starting to look like vindication for conservatives who held their noses on other issues and voted for him on that basis alone.
On Monday, Trump released the names of 10 people he’s nominating to federal courts, including five to appeals courts. The selections were generally met with enthusiasm by conservative judicial experts. With more than 120 vacancies currently, he’ll need to keep up this kind of pace to keep the federal bench well-stocked. Going forward, this tidbit from the New York Times’ story on the nominations is worth keeping in mind:
“The candidates … include two judges from the lists (of 21 potential Supreme Court nominees) issued during the campaign. Both serve on state supreme courts, and the administration may believe that Senate confirmation and a record of federal judicial opinions will make them more attractive candidates for eventual elevation to the Supreme Court.
“One is Justice Joan L. Larsen, a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia and law professor at the University of Michigan, who now serves on the Michigan Supreme Court. She will be nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati.
“The other is Justice David R. Stras, a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and law professor at the University of Minnesota, who now serves on the Minnesota Supreme Court. He will be nominated to the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis.”
Trump has already nominated another member of his list, Judge Amul Thapar, to the Sixth Circuit. That means four of the 21 — counting new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch — have been named to positions in Trump’s first four months on the job. And that just 17 remain for the next opening on the high court. That could come sooner than later: Rumors have circulated that Justice Anthony Kennedy could retire from the bench as early as this summer. From what I’ve been able to glean, the front-runner should that happen would be Thomas Hardiman, who was one of two other finalists earlier this year when Gorsuch got the nod.
Some conservatives, myself included, questioned whether we could count on Trump to stick to his list given the number of issues on which he’s reversed himself over the years as well as the other subjects that compete for a president’s political capital once he’s in office. Judging by his initial court appointments, we were wrong to doubt him on this matter.