News & Politics

House Republicans Have a Dark Plan to Pack the Federal Courts and Entrench Right-Wing Control

The GOP-Controlled House Judiciary Committee wants to expand the federal courts and limit their ability to overrule Trump's authority.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Thanks to President Donald Trump's nomination of far-right D.C. appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and the president's prodigious rate of equally far-right nominations to lower courts, Republicans are on the cusp of extending their control of the federal court system for another couple of decades.

But even that is not enough for the GOP. According to Roll Call legal reporter Todd Ruger, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to introduce a series of bills on Thursday that would both dramatically expand the number of judges Trump could appoint, and reduce the authority of existing judges to block his executive actions.

The first bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), would add 52 new district court judges, which is more than double the number of district court judges nominated by Trump to be confirmed in the last two years.

The second bill would add five new judges to the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and split the court into four divisions — a blatant attempt to let Trump add right-wing cronies to a liberal, California-based court that has stymied Trump on a number of issues. This includes forcing him to rewrite the Muslim ban and to continue processing DACA permits for young immigrants.

There is nothing inherently wrong with adding more judges to federal courts — in fact, the Judiciary Conference asked Congress for these exact increases. But the only reason there is such a need for new judges is because the GOP repeatedly refused to grant the Judiciary Conference's requests for more judgeships during President Barack Obama's tenure. In fact, according to former White House Deputy Counsel Chris Kang, Obama's presidency was the first to not have Congress increase the number of federal judgeships since the Gerald Ford administration. As with the Merrick Garland nomination, Republicans strategically stalled so a GOP president could have all the seats.

But the crown jewel of House Republicans' scheme is the third bill. Introduced by Goodlatte earlier this week, it would require district and appeals courts to restrict injunctions "only to the protection of the parties before it." In layman's terms, if a person sued to stop a policy of the Trump administration in a lower court, and the court found the policy unlawful, they would only be able to block the administration from enforcing it on just that one person, rather than block the policy altogether.

Abolishing "nationwide injunctions" is a particular dream of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has blasted federal courts for obstructing several pieces of Trump's agenda, from defunding cities that don't cooperate with ICE to barring transgender military service. The effect of this bill would be to make it almost impossible to prevent the administration from enforcing its will, even if a lower court judge rules against it.

The one bright spot in this bleak picture is that none of these bills will have anywhere close to the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate, even if they make it through the House. But they illustrate how relentlessly determined Republicans are to reshape the judicial branch in their right-wing image.

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Matthew Chapman is a video game designer, science fiction author, and political reporter from Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter @fawfulfan.