President Donald J. Trump is revamping the judiciary branch by quietly making lifetime appointments to fill more than 100 vacancies on federal courts across the country.
So far, he has confirmed five judges, with another 30 pending and 123 seats left to fill.
“It can’t be overstated the impact the individuals he’s appointing will have on millions of people across the country and their children for a generation or two,” said Dan Goldberg, legal director of the liberal organization, Alliance for Justice (AFJ). “The Supreme court only hears about 80 cases a year. Ninety-nine percent of cases end in the federal courts of appeal or at the trial level.”
The hard-won confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, for which Republicans had to change Senate rules to accomplish with a simple majority vote, will stand out as the president’s first major achievement.
Another Supreme Court appointment is likely, given the ages of several justices, but President Trump will make more of an impact with his appointments to the lower district and circuit courts.
According to Ilya Shapiro, a member of the conservative Federalist Society and senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, only one of the 13 federal circuit courts had a majority of judges appointed by Democrats when Obama took office.
When Obama left office, nine of the 13 courts had a majority of Democratically-appointed judges, Shapiro said.
Two of Trump’s judicial nominees have already been appointed to the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Amul Thapar and John Bush, both of Kentucky.
Bush has been Trump’s most controversial pick, thus far.
In blog posts written under the pseudonym “G. Morris” on Elephantsinthebluegrass.com, Bush called Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, and Dred Scott, which affirmed slavery, “the two greatest tragedies in our country.” He also wrote about Obama’s ties to Kenya, questioning the former president’s citizenship.
The Senate has also confirmed appellate lawyer Kevin Newsom to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Idaho trial court judge David Nye, a former Obama nominee who Trump re-nominated, to be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.
Tapped to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, attorney Damien Schiff will be the Senate’s next big test.
In blog posts, Schiff called Justice Anthony Kennedy a “judicial prostitute” and criticized a California school district’s proposed anti-bullying initiative for “teaching gayness” in public schools.
When the Senate returns from its summer recess in September, the Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Barrett, a law professor at the Notre Dame University of Law, has written about the duty of Catholic judges to put their faith above the law, according to the AFJ.
“We do not defend this position as the proper response for a Catholic judge to take with respect to abortion or the death penalty,” Coney Barrett reportedly wrote in a 1998 article she co-authored for the Marquette Law Review, titled, “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases.”
Democrats have been accused of delaying the judicial nominations. “Democrats have been insisting on 30 hours of debate for all the president’s nominees and virtually all of his judicial nominees,” noted John Malcolm, vice president for the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government.
Liberal groups say the only reason Trump has so many vacancies to fill is that Republicans refused to negotiate with Obama.
Obama had 329 judicial nominees confirmed during his two terms in office.
Critics of Trump’s judicial nominees have accused him of outsourcing the process to conservative groups like the Federalist Society, but members of those groups say they are happy Trump has turned to them.
“Elections have consequences. It can’t be understated that judicial nominations, being lifetime appointments, are huge,” Shapiro said. “I’m glad this is an area President Trump is deferring to people who have good ideas about this sort of thing and running the process smoothly.”
ABOUT U.S. COURTS
According to USCourts.gov, the federal judiciary operates separately from the executive and legislative branches, but often works with them as the Constitution requires. Federal laws are passed by Congress and signed by the President. The judicial branch decides the constitutionality of federal laws and resolves other disputes about federal laws. However, judges depend on our government’s executive branch to enforce court decisions.
Courts decide what really happened and what should be done about it. They decide whether a person committed a crime and what the punishment should be. They also provide a peaceful way to decide private disputes that people can’t resolve themselves. Depending on the dispute or crime, some cases end up in the federal courts and some end up in state courts. Learn more about the different types of federal courts.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Article III of the U.S. Constitution created the Supreme Court and authorized Congress to pass laws establishing a system of lower courts. In the federal court system’s present form, 94 district level trial courts and 13 courts of appeals sit below the Supreme Court. Learn more about the Supreme Court.
Courts of Appeals
There are 13 appellate courts that sit below the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are called the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals. The appellate court’s task is to determine whether or not the law was applied correctly in the trial court. Appeals courts consist of three judges and do not use a jury.
A court of appeals hears challenges to district court decisions from courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies.
In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws, and cases decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Learn more about the courts of appeals.
Bankruptcy Appellate Panels
Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) are 3-judge panels authorized to hear appeals of bankruptcy court decisions. These panels are a unit of the federal courts of appeals, and must be established by that circuit.
The nation’s 94 district or trial courts are called U.S. District Courts. District courts resolve disputes by determining the facts and applying legal principles to decide who is right.
Trial courts include the district judge who tries the case and a jury that decides the case. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing cases for trial. They may also conduct trials in misdemeanor cases.
There is at least one district court in each state, and the District of Columbia. Each district includes a U.S. bankruptcy court as a unit of the district court. Four territories of the United States have U.S. district courts that hear federal cases, including bankruptcy cases: Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
There are also two special trial courts. The Court of International Trade addresses cases involving international trade and customs laws. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims deals with most claims for money damages against the U.S. government.
Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases involving personal, business, or farm bankruptcy. This means a bankruptcy case cannot be filed in state court. Through the bankruptcy process, individuals or businesses that can no longer pay their creditors may either seek a court-supervised liquidation of their assets, or they may reorganize their financial affairs and work out a plan to pay their debts.
Article I Courts
Congress created several Article I, or legislative courts, that do not have full judicial power. Judicial power is the authority to be the final decider in all questions of Constitutional law, all questions of federal law and to hear claims at the core of habeas corpus issues. Article I Courts are:
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