One Of Trump's Enduring Legacies Will Be On The Courts

Oct 16, 2018
Originally published on October 16, 2018 4:14 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One of President Trump's legacies will be in the courts. The White House has nominated and a Republican-led Senate has confirmed conservative jurists to federal courts at all levels. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson takes a closer look.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been a mastermind of the strategy to overhaul the federal bench. Here he is talking about the accomplishment in a Trump rally in his home state, Kentucky, last weekend.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Eighty-four new federal judges already this Congress.

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MCCONNELL: That's already a record, Mr. President. Keep sending them our way, and we'll keep confirming them and change to the court system forever. Thank you for being here.

JOHNSON: In many ways, President Trump has exposed divisions in the country and even within the Republican Party. But when it comes to judges, his approach has unified conservatives across that spectrum.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We'll continue to confirm incredible, pro-Constitution judges, not radical, far-left judges who will rewrite your Constitution.

JOHNSON: Already the achievements are clear - two Supreme Court justices, 53 district court judges and 29 circuit court judges. That's 1 in 6 of all the appeals court judges to sit on the federal bench. Vanita Gupta runs The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She says the Trump judges are not a diverse bunch.

VANITA GUPTA: Most of whom are predominantly young, white and male.

JOHNSON: And she's urging people to pay attention to all those new judges below the Supreme Court level.

GUPTA: Ultimately, very few cases actually make their way up to the Supreme Court. And a vast, vast majority of cases are decided in the lower courts. That means that things that matter to your life and mine and to our family's lives are really decided in the lower courts.

JOHNSON: Someone else is watching the federal judiciary. It's Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He delivered sharp remarks about the role of judges in a speech Monday night to the conservative Heritage Foundation.

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JEFF SESSIONS: But an increasing number of judges are ignoring the boundaries and view themselves as something akin to roving inspectors general for the entire executive branch.

JOHNSON: With the White House and the Congress both in Republican hands, judges are sometimes serving as the only check and balance on the Trump administration, and Sessions is objecting. He pointed to recent court rulings that demanded more details about the administration's decisions on immigration and the origin of a question about citizenship on the census. Judges in those cases appear to be skeptical of the motives behind some of those policies. They've ordered the commerce secretary to sit for a deposition and ordered a Homeland Security official to turn over notes from a White House meeting. How would judges like it, Sessions asked, if someone from the Congress or the executive branch wanted to see their correspondence with law clerks?

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SESSIONS: It's a monumental disruption. It should not be done lightly. And there's no basis for it. Subjecting the executive branch to this kind of discovery is not acceptable. It's just not. And we intend to fight it, and we intend to win.

JOHNSON: Meanwhile, in the Republican-controlled Senate, there's no letup in the campaign to confirm more judges to lifetime appointments. Lawmakers have scheduled a hearing for Wednesday on six more nominees even though the Senate is actually not in session. Again, Vanita Gupta.

GUPTA: Senators can't be hiding a nominee's record. They shouldn't be ending debate prematurely. They shouldn't be rubber stamping these judges through. They need to hold hearings when the Senate is in session and not be jamming through controversial judges.

JOHNSON: For President Trump, there's a lot more work to do to reshape the courts.

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TRUMP: By the time we finish, maybe 50 percent of the court - you know that is? Fifty percent.

JOHNSON: And those judges will serve long after this president leaves the White House. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.