Many Americans watching the turmoil in US institutions and political norms are yearning for the day when Donald Trump is no longer president. But whether he leaves after 2020 or 2024, Trump has built a legacy in one vital area that can be expected to stand for decades, long after his Twitter feed has fallen silent, analysts across the political spectrum agree.
That legacy comprises the 89 judges, and rapidly counting, that Trump has nominated, and Senate Republicans have confirmed, to serve at all levels of the federal court system. They are taking up posts from the district courts (53 Trump nominees confirmed out of 677 total) to the appellate courts (34 out of 179) to the US supreme court (two out of nine). Put together they form a kind of conservative judicial revolution that could impact all aspects of American life.
In the past week, Trump’s judges tally notched up by three, with the confirmation to appeals courts of Chad Readler, who previously ran the legal effort to dismantle Barack Obama’s healthcare law; Eric Murphy, who undermined voting rights, marriage equality and reproductive rights as a state solicitor in Ohio; and Allison Jones Rushing, who has past ties to an anti-LGBT group and who at 37 years old is the country’s youngest federal judge, a lifetime appointment.
As with previous Trump nominees, Readler, Murphy and Rushing were confirmed over the impassioned protests of progressive groups who warned the judges were out of step with the country on crucial issues including immigration, abortion, climate change, LGBT rights, healthcare, voting rights and more.
The overarching concern, said Daniel L Goldberg, the legal director at the Alliance For Justice, is that Trump’s judges will now shape American life according to the narrow conservative vision of the elite, predominantly white and male groups guiding Trump’s hand as he makes his picks – a vision that is divergent not only from the political left but also from the center.
“I don’t think most Americans realize, long after Donald Trump and his repeated attacks on the rule of law – on the independent judiciary and our constitutional rights – long after Donald Trump has left the scene, his judges will still be interpreting the constitution and our laws for the next two, three, four decades,” Goldberg said.
“And for millions of Americans, who rely every day on critical protections for workers, for clean air and water, for healthcare, for critical rights for women and LGBTQ Americans, there’s going to be an attack coming from our courts on some of our most precious rights and legal protections.”
The Trump judge-confirming machine has arguably been run better than anything else in his administration – perhaps because he has had relatively little to do with it. Unlike past presidents, Trump has turned the job of picking nominees over, almost wholly, to the White House counsel’s office, which in turn has worked from lists drawn up by the Federalist Society, the country’s premier network of conservative lawyers.