Thanks to Senate Republicans, who consistently blocked efforts for the Obama administration to fill judicial vacancies, President Donald Trump had more than 100 spots to fill on the federal bench, The New York Times reports. Now Trump and Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are working feverishly to install conservative judges in remaining openings in an effort to make sure the next president has no such opportunity should a Democrat take the White House in 2020.
Liberal activists, however, are preparing to offset that growing conservative presence in the courts. Veteran judges who were appointed by Democrats may be hanging onto their seats, avoiding retirement until the 2020 presidential race. Almost 100 federal judges, nominated by Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and even Jimmy Carter, could be eligible for a status known as semiretirement by the time the next president take offices. That states would allow them to continue presiding over cases while also creating an official vacancy that could be filled by Trump’s successor. Those new vacancies could very well be filled by much younger replacements, allowing the next president to influence the makeup of the judiciary for potentially many decades to come.
Because the new judges would not likely have strong ideological differences compared to their predecessors, such a move would not meaningfully alter the makeup of the courts, but they could substantially influence the longevity of the existing status quo on the left.
“It is essential to be ready on Day 1 of a new administration with names to fill every vacancy,” said Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance for Justice, a 40-year-old judicial advocacy group. “This is to start identifying people so the new president won’t waste a minute in addressing this need.”
Alliance for Justice calls the initiative “Building the Bench” and the effort is supported by a number of other liberal advocacy groups and labor unions across the country. The advisory board is made up of a group of more than 30 law professors and lawyers.
“The impetus for this is to start repairing the harm this administration has done to the federal bench,” Aron said of the effort.
If successful, the move by the liberal activists could serve as a counterbalance of sorts against the substantial rightward pull Trump has managed to bring on the Supreme Court. Last week McConnell pointed out, however, that he didn’t expect to see any of the Supreme Court justices nominated by Democrats to leave the bench in time for Trump to fill another vacancy.