Trump judges are in a tear

Among the provocative decisions by the Trump-appointed judges:

Those envelope-pushing glitches have fueled questions about whether Trump’s judicial picks are more conservative or more partisan than those of previous Republican presidents and if decades of unorthodox executive orders from those judicial picks lie ahead.

In absolute numbers, Trump’s impact on the federal judiciary was profound. In just four years in office, he replaced a third of the Supreme Court, 54 members of the circuit courts of appeals, and 174 district court judges. In total, about 30 percent of the federal caucus.

Trump’s count of appeals court judges fell one short of the number that former President Barack Obama managed to take to the bench in twice the time. The 11th Circuit, which is expected to hear the government’s appeal of Cannon’s special master order, is a Trump majority court with six of the 11 active judges appointed by the 45th president.

Trump’s preference for younger nominees also means his judicial picks could dictate decisions for the next half-century.

Trump has made it clear that he expects undying loyalty from the judges he appointed, referring to them as “my judges” and publicly complaining when they ruled against his administration.

“If you are my judges, you know how you are going to decide,” Trump assured evangelical leaders during the 2016 campaign.

Trump’s repeated attacks on judges during that campaign and the early stages of his presidency led to an unusual public rebuke of Chief Justice John Roberts in 2018.

“We don’t have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said then. “That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

Still, some recent judicial forays into particularly political cases have raised questions about whether Trump’s judges have a particularly partisan bent.

A March ruling by a Trump appointee in North Carolina shut down statewide proceedings to disqualify the representative. madison cawthorn (RN.C.) for re-election for his support of efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. (A federal appeals court reversed the decision two months later, and Cawthorn lost his primary, making the dispute was debatable).

Other times, unorthodox orders extend to the White House, as when a Trump-appointed judge in Louisiana issued a highly unusual ruling last week requiring President Joe Biden’s White House to hand over communications with social media companies. about allegedly objectionable content. The judge’s forceful approach to discovery in the case came despite the fact that similar lawsuits Trump filed against major social media companies two years ago failed in court.

But are those decisions the product of a handful of eccentric justices, or are Trump justices somehow different from their predecessors, even those appointed by Republican presidents?

Academics who analyzed the data say Trump’s justices appear to be different, both in their rulings and their backgrounds, though some of the differences are striking.

“Their judges, by and large, are very conservative, more conservative than George W. Bush’s judges, who are quite conservative,” said Kenneth Manning, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, who studied the early justices of Trump’s trial courts during a paper of 2020.

Trump’s appointees are the most conservative of the last 10 presidents, the study found, particularly on issues of civil rights, civil liberties, labor regulations and the economy. However, Trump’s judicial choices were more liberal in ruling on criminal justice issues, Manning and his co-authors found.

In fact, Trump appointees were markedly more sympathetic to criminal defendants than Reagan appointees, who ranked as the most conservative in that field over the half-century studied. Some attribute the difference to the kind of suspicion about federal law enforcement that Trump expressed during his presidency and since, as well as broader skepticism in Federalist Society circles about aggressive prosecution of neck crimes. white.

“Trump’s judges are not the pro-law enforcement judges that, shall we say, Reagan’s judges were,” Manning said.

Another academic who studied Trump’s appeals court picks found that their résumés tended to be less experienced as federal prosecutors.

“The Trump administration [nominees] they were a bit different, more likely coming from state courts or state attorney general’s offices. … They were also more likely to have worked in the White House or the Justice Department,” said David Zaring, a professor at the Wharton School of Business. “The biographical difference that really stood out between Trump’s appointees compared to his predecessors is much more executive branch service.”

A study that Zaring published in 2020 of Trump’s appellate judge nominees found they were younger, had spent more time in politics and less time in legal jobs in the private sector than their predecessors. Trump’s election record suggests he is more likely to issue decisions that surprise others in the legal sphere, he said.

“To the extent that there are more political judges in the Trump administration… it will be more difficult for lawyers to predict,” the professor said. “You just have a lot more variation and a lot more people who may be outliers in some way. … Even though conservatives have assiduously grown this farm equipment, the farm equipment just isn’t that big.”

One reason some Trump-appointed justices may seem more eccentric or even extremist than their peers is that Trump’s nominees were typically chosen from a smaller pool of candidates. Some legal conservatives declined to be considered for executive branch and judiciary positions out of distaste for Trump or concern about being tarnished by associating with him.

Others who were willing to accept a nomination found their bids for a White House and president derailed. notoriously sensitive to any hint of public criticism or possible disloyalty.

Despite some rulings that have backed Trump or his allies, his judicial picks have hardly proven to go hand in hand with Trump’s political wishes. Trump’s efforts to nullify the 2020 election were met with vehement pushback from some of his own appointees, who in some cases issued rulings gutting the claims of Trump allies and expressing alarm at the relief they sought. His three US Supreme Court appointees voted with their colleagues to fire a Texas lawsuit in December 2020 contesting the election results.

“This is a extraordinary case,” Trump appointee Brett Ludwig wrote in a brutal firing of a Trump suit seeking to block the certification of the results of the presidential election in Wisconsin.

“A sitting president who did not prevail in his bid for re-election sought the help of a federal court to set aside the popular vote based on disputed issues of election administration, issues that he clearly could have raised before the election occurred. vote. This Court has given the plaintiff the opportunity to present his case and has lost on the merits,” Ludwig stated.

In Washington, DC, Trump’s four appointees to the federal district court have aligned almost evenly on issues stemming from the January 6, 2021 attack on Capitol Hill. While Trump has described the prosecutions and prior detention of some suspects as excessively harsh, his nominees on the court described the effort to stop electoral vote certification as an assault on democracy and worthy of harsh punishment for those who committed violence or worked to flout law enforcement.

“There was nothing patriotic about what happened that day, far from it,” Judge Timothy Kelly said last month while handed down a four-and-a-half-year sentence to a member of the Proud Boys who joined the Capitol revolt. “It was a national embarrassment.”

Kelly also issued a extensive failure Blessing the select committee’s effort on January 6 to cite data from the Republican National Committee, held by an outside vendor, in an opinion that completely rejected efforts by Trump allies to discredit the panel.

However, where there have been differences in the Jan. 6 trials, almost all have come from Trump appointees. Judge Trevor McFadden handed down a defendant’s only acquittal on Jan. 6, finding it plausible that he believed police had authorized him to enter and remain on Capitol Hill. Judge Carl Nichols became the only district judge to rule that obstruction charges faced by multiple defendants should be dismissed.

But Nichols has also been unpredictable. As the presiding judge in Steve Bannon’s contempt of Congress trial, he issued a series of rulings that undermined Bannon’s defense and similarly agreed that the select committee was properly constituted. Nichols is expected to rule imminently on a select committee subpoena for the testimony and records of former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Trying to guess exactly what the Trump administration’s standards and goals were for district court nominees is particularly challenging because, outside of DC and a few other places, senators enjoy veto power over district court benches. under the so-called “blue slip” rule. That power sometimes forces White Houses into deals in which they accept compromise candidates they might not otherwise name, in exchange for senators’ approval of the president’s preferred candidates.

During Trump’s presidency, he often argued that liberal justices were twisting the law to block his most controversial policies, such as the border wall and the so-called Muslim ban. But even some scholars who have criticized that trend for establishing a unique type of “Trumplaw” now say the term can be applied to some of the recent rulings favoring Trump’s legal positions.

“This is completely out of line, and unfortunately Cannon has tended to accept it,” said John Banzhaf, a George Washington University law professor. “She is applying a kind of reverse Trumplaw: whatever Trump wants, I will take the most ridiculous argument and accept it.”

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