Here’s the method behind Mitch McConnell's massively successful effort to stack federal courts with conservative judges
If there is any Republican who, next to President Donald Trump, Democrats would most like to see voted out office in 2020, it is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But unfortunately for Democrats, McConnell is up for reelection in a very Republican state: Kentucky. And one of the main reasons Democrats would love to see McConnell unseated is his effect on the federal judiciary. McConnell has been stacking the federal courts with hard-right judges, and as Laura Litvan reports in Bloomberg News, he’s very good at it.
Litvan notes that when President Barack Obama was still in office, McConnell held up Obama’s court nominees and left “86 district court vacancies and 17 circuit court vacancies for Trump to fill when he took office in January 2017.” And McConnell’s most infamous move of all came in 2016, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died and Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland for the seat; McConnell wouldn’t even bring the nomination up for a vote in the Senate, but he did everything he could to ram through the nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017 after Trump was sworn in as president.
One of the reasons why McConnell has been so effective in getting right-wing judges confirmed by the Senate, Litvan observes, is “a rule change under former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, who unilaterally reduced the number of votes needed to advance appellate and district court nominees to 51 votes instead of 60.” And in 2017, Litvan adds, Republicans “lowered the threshold for Supreme Court nominees to 51 — and in April, they cut debate time for district court judges from 30 hours to just two.”
During Obama’s eight years in office, Litvan points out, a total of 55 appellate court judges were confirmed; 43 have been confirmed under Trump thanks, in part, to McConnell. “Trump-appointed judges,” according to Litvan, “now make up almost a quarter of the 179 full-time federal appeals court slots.”
According to Russell Wheeler, a Brookings Institution scholar, McConnell has also helped to make the federal judiciary whiter. Litvan, citing data from Wheeler, notes that “fewer than half of the judges confirmed under Obama were white males” — whereas “about 70% of” Trump’s circuit court nominees have been white males.