Here Come the Trump Judges

The White House moves to fill vacancies on the appellate courts.


Joan Larsen speaks in Lansing, Mich. in 2015.

Joan Larsen speaks in Lansing, Mich. in 2015. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

With Neil Gorsuch safely on the Supreme Court, the White House is turning its attention to the lower federal courts. President Trump took a major step Monday, naming five new nominees to the federal appellate courts and five to the district courts.

The five appellate nominees are Joan Larsen of the Michigan Supreme Court and John Bush of Kentucky to the Sixth Circuit, Kevin Newsom of Alabama to the 11th Circuit, David Stras of Minnesota to the Eighth Circuit and Amy Barrett of Indiana to the Seventh Circuit.

Judges Larsen and Stras were on Mr. Trump’s original list of 21 judges he said he’d consider for the Supreme Court, and the group has sterling credentials. Ms. Barrett is a law professor at Notre Dame who clerked for federal Judge Laurence Silberman, a giant of the appellate circuits, as well as the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Mr. Newsom is a former clerk to Justice David Souter and has argued multiple cases before the Supreme Court. Mr. Bush is a highly regarded lawyer in private practice who represented President Reagan during the Iran-Contra investigations. 

It’s likely the left will pressure Democratic Senators like Al Franken (Minnesota) and Joe Donnelly (Indiana) to withhold their endorsements of the home state judges, known as “blue slips.” But White House Counsel Donald McGahn has put together impressive nominees who will be hard to obstruct for reasons beyond raw partisanship.

Prompt Senate action on the nominations is important—not least because the number of vacancies on the federal bench is around 129. After these latest nominees, that includes 14 on the appellate circuits. President Obama made 331 judicial appointments, and his nominees to the federal appeals courts now represent about a third of the judges.

According to the Brookings Institution, as of September 2016 there were 92 liberal appellate judges and 75 conservatives. It’s time to redress the balance in the 115th Congress while Republicans have a Senate majority.

Appeared in the May. 09, 2017, print edition.

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