The collapse of three of President Donald Trump‘s judicial nominations in the span of a week has embarrassed the White House, revealed weaknesses in its vetting process and threatened to cause Senate Republicans to apply more scrutiny to the president‘s picks.
In their push to fill scores of vacancies on federal circuit and district courts at the historic pace demanded by Trump, White House officials have overlooked vulnerabilities in the backgrounds of some nominees. Critics allege that White House counsel Donald McGahn, who is overseeing the process, has sacrificed traditional qualifications for ideological purity and youth.
But the downfalls of three nominees – Jeff Mateer, Matthew Petersen and Brett Talley – are also aberrations in what has been a quiet yet undeniable success for Trump: a year-long drive to permanently alter the judiciary by nominating and confirming conservative jurists to lifetime appointments on the federal bench.
The president has told advisers that he is focused on three main criteria: that his nominees be young (in most cases younger than 50, and preferably younger than 40), conservative and strict constitutionalists.
“He clearly understands that this is going to be one of his enduring legacies,” said Leonard Leo, a Trump adviser on judges and the executive vice president of the Federalist Society. “He is excited about how many more judges he‘s going to get to pick. He likes to know the statistics, the facts and figures.”
Typically when discussing potential nominees, Leo said, Trump asks one overarching question: “He‘ll say, ‘He‘s not weak, is he?‘ “
So far, Trump has nominated 59 people for federal judgeships. Among them, 19 have been confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate: Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, 12 circuit court judges and six district court judges.