The past year was probably the most consequential in modern history for the appointment of conservative judges to the federal courts, with a successor to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who shares his judicial philosophy, and a historic number of appeals court judges who will shape the law for two generations. What led to this transformative moment was a unique presidential election, the first in American history during which the composition of the federal judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, was cited as a major factor for a large swath of voters. The issue might well have been decisive to the outcome of that contest.
Since the 2016 election, President Donald Trump has nominated judges who have a demonstrated commitment to, as the president puts it, interpreting the Constitution “the way it was meant to be.” In so doing, Trump is ensuring that his legacy will last far beyond his term in office. Tax and health care reform can quickly evaporate with future changes in congressional majorities, but federal judges serve for life, often making decisions about our Constitution and laws that affect one or two generations. History shows, just as well, that federal judges can block a president’s agenda, preventing the executive branch from accomplishing its goals when it comes to deregulation, national security and other aspects of domestic and social policy reform.
The year of “extraordinary accomplishment,” as Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell described it, began with the nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the seat left vacant by Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. He will likely serve for decades, and may well be the deciding vote in enormously important cases touching on free speech, religious liberty, gun rights and the scope of authority of the administrative state.