Donald Trump will not be president of the United States forever. He will lose his reelection bid in 2020 or be term-limited out of office in 2024. Or perhaps the inevitable result of human frailty will do its work and put an end to Trump’s ongoing illegal reign. Most people now living will outlast his presidency and be left to pick up the pieces of the shattered nation he will leave behind.
But Trump’s Court—the collection of judges and justices now swarming our judicial system, nominated and confirmed to lifetime appointments on his recommendation—will linger, like an infected wound poisoning the body politic even after the initial injury has scabbed over. As of this writing, the Trump administration has had 123 federal judges confirmed, including 41 to the federal courts of appeal—the circuit courts just one rung below the Supreme Court. By comparison, at this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had pushed only 19 circuit-court judges through to confirmation. Trump’s appointees now account for some 14 percent of the federal judiciary and more than 22 percent of the judges on the nation’s courts of appeal—and he has been in office for just two and a half years. Many of Trump’s other offenses could be overturned by a new president with the stroke of a pen. Trump’s Court will remain as his legacy.
The characteristics of these new Trump judges are not limited to their hostility toward a woman’s right to choose. Trump promised anti-choice judges, and he has made good on that threat. But while tapping judges who can be trusted to oppose the Supreme Court precedent of Roe v. Wade, he has also dredged up those who share a nasty disrespect for any individual rights that don’t flow from God or the barrel of a gun.
Trump judges are dismissive of LGBTQ rights and protections—in some cases, to the point of open bigotry. They’re hostile to minority voting rights and claims of racial or gender discrimination. They’re largely young and inexperienced, and an unsettling number have earned their stripes as partisan think-tank writers, op-ed columnists, or even bloggers. They believe in deregulation to the point of corporate anarchy, meaning that significant climate-change proposals might have to wait until they can be enacted over these judges’ literal dead bodies. And they don’t much resemble the rest of the country: 78 percent are male, and 87 percent are white. Appealing to Trump’s Court is like letting the board of governors at your local yacht club—or Proud Boys chapter—decide your fate.
The Trump Court, of course, is not actually Trump’s idea; he probably wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between Chief Justice John Roberts and Judge Wapner. But Trump has been all too happy to play along with the game orchestrated by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and his coterie of Senate enablers because—it’s a deal, see? Trump delivers the judges, helping fulfill the conservative movement’s long-cherished dream of remaking the judiciary, and his base remains content.
For McConnell, this moment has been a long time in the making. Even before he blocked Merrick Garland, who was nominated by Obama for the Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia, McConnell had been busy systematically stymieing the previous president’s judicial appointments. This years-long campaign of obstruction left an astonishing 106 judicial vacancies at the end of Obama’s second term and is a prime reason that Trump has been able to fill seats at such a brisk pace. The senator was playing a very long game.