Young, mostly male, and overwhelmingly white judges appointed by President Trump are on the cusp of remaking the once reliably liberal Ninth Circuit of the Court of Appeals, the nation’s highest court below the Supreme Court.
The “very, very liberal circuit,” as then Attorney General Jeff Sessions once put it, covers the American West, including California as well as Alaska and Hawaii. Trump himself has called it “totally out of control,” a “big thorn in our side,” a “complete and total disaster,” and a “disgrace.” At one point, he said, “It would be great if the 9th Circuit was indeed an ‘independent judiciary’”—his scary scare quotes.
Now the Senate has been racing to give lifetime seats on its bench to Trump judges whose pro-business jurisprudence and regressive social views are out of step with much of the country, including Democrats and younger Americans.
“The Ninth has been the circuit that immigrants, women, people of color, public health and safety advocates look to for resolution of critical issues,” says Nan Aron, founder of Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group. “Because of the court’s reputation, Donald Trump and his ilk have had their knives out for the Ninth Circuit.”
Trump has lambasted the Ninth Circuit at points for ruling against his Muslim ban, his attempt to withhold federal funds to immigrant-friendly sanctuary cities, and his effort to end the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
And like clockwork, legislation is regularly introduced in the Congress to split the circuit in two. The latest effort, by Senator Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona, would create a “Twelfth Circuit” that would wall off California with Hawaii, Guam, and the Mariana Islands.
That won’t happen and it won’t be needed at the rate Trump is going.