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Trump has packed federal courts in his first year, pleasing once-wary conservatives

As a candidate, the ideologically flexible Donald Trump urged skeptical conservatives to support him with one simple pitch.

“If you really like Donald Trump, that’s great, but if you don’t, you have to vote for me anyway,” he said at a July 2016 rally in Iowa. “You know why? Supreme Court judges, Supreme Court judges. Have no choice, sorry, sorry, sorry. You have no choice.”

A year into Trump’s presidency, conservatives have reason to be pleased with the judicial branch. Since Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, the GOP-majority Senate has confirmed 23 judges to lifetime posts. The figure includes 50-year-old Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and a dozen Circuit Court of Appeals judges — the latter a record for a president’s first year.

For every first-year achievement Trump has trumpeted — particularly the passage of a GOP tax plan — none may have the lasting effects of his effort to reshape the judiciary. In December, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cited “Neil Gorsuch and the changes we’re making in the circuit courts” as his biggest achievement of 2017, even ahead of reaching his long-held goal to overhaul the U.S. tax system.