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Trump appointing judges at rapid pace

Trump has spent his first year rapidly filling Article III judgeships at Supreme, appellate and District Court levels.

A Times data analysis found Trump is ranked No. 6 of 19 presidents appointing the highest number of federal judges in their first year.

“It’s one area where the administration has really been successful, so understanding what’s happening is important,” said University of Georgia law professor Susan Brodie Haire.

Most federal judge appointments in a president’s first year


Article III judicial appointments

Donald Trump

6th: 23 judges

Barack Obama

10th (tied): 13 judges

George W. Bush

5th: 28 judges

Bill Clinton

4th: 28 judges

George H.W. Bush

9th: 15 judges

Ronald Reagan

2nd: 41 judges

Jimmy Carter

3rd: 31 judges

Gerald R. Ford

7th (tied): 17 judges

Richard M. Nixon

11th: 12 judges

Lyndon B. Johnson

14th: 0 judges

John F. Kennedy

1st: 78 judges


Dwight D. Eisenhower

Harry S. Truman

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Herbert Hoover

Calvin Coolidge

Warren G. Harding

Woodrow Wilson

William H. Taft


One reason Trump has been able to fast-track judges: His Republican Party holds a slim majority in the Senate.

Another reason is a little bit of political warfare. Republican senators blocked 36 judicial nominations in President Obama’s first five years, according to Politifact. The best-known nominee was Judge Merrick Garland, chosen to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Frustrated Senate Democrats used procedural tactics to allow most judicial confirmation votes to pass with a simple majority instead of a super-majority of 60.

“Nominations pretty much came to a halt until the start of the Trump administration when the Senate started quickly confirming his nominees,” Haire said.

Even with Trump’s rapid clip, there are more than 140 vacancies in the federal judiciary awaiting appointments.

Since taking office, Trump has appointed 12 circuit court judges – the second highest rate among any president since 1912, when the circuit court system was reformed. Although, he is behind some of his predecessors with District Court confirmations.

The number for President Kennedy is so high because Congress in 1961 approved new judgeships to ease backlogs in the federal courts.

The president has constitutional authority to nominate judges to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and District Courts. Judgeships at these three level are lifetime positions, also known as Article III judges. While it is ultimately the president who nominates, recommendations usually are sought from senators representing the states in question and from within the federal courts. Congress can then confirm or deny nominees by a majority vote.

Article III judges have the ability to set significant precedents over a wide array of policies and laws affecting virtually all aspect of American life — including immigration, freedom of speech and religion, and how an individual can vote.

Trump had appointed 23 Article III judges as of Jan. 17. Most of them replaced judges appointed by a Republican president; six replaced judges appointed by a Democrat.

Four of the appointments to the appellate courts replaced appointees by Democratic presidents – two from Jimmy Carter and two from Bill Clinton. Two of the appointments to the District Courts replaced Obama appointees.

Source: Federal Judicial CenterSupreme CourtAntonin ScaliaNeil M. GorsuchCircuit CourtsKermit Edward ByeRalph R. EricksonPrevious judgeTRUMP APPOINTED William Jay RileyL. Steven GraszJoel F. DubinaKevin NewsomJanice Rogers BrownGregory G. KatsasEmilio M. GarzaDon WillettCarolyn Dineen KingJames C. HoJohn Daniel TinderAmy Coney BarrettBoyce F. Martin JrAmul ThaparDanny J. BoggsJohn K. BushDavid W. McKeagueJoan LarsenNeil M. GorsuchAllison H. EidMarjorie O. RendellStephanos BibasDistrict CourtsRosemary M. CollyerTimothy J. KellyRichard J. LeonTrevor N. McFaddenReggie B. WaltonDabney L FriedrichEdward J. LodgeDavid NyeJulie E. CarnesMichael L. BrownKevin Hunter SharpWilliam L. Campbell Jr.Joseph F. Anderson Jr.Donald C. Coggins Jr.Robert A. JunellWalter David Counts IIIStephen P. FriotScott L. PalkSamuel H. Mays Jr.Thomas L. R. ParkerParty of the appointing presidentGOPGOPDEMGOP

How Trump’s nominees stack up

FFour of Trump’s nominees so far have been rated not qualified by the American Bar Assn.’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. That’s nearly 14% of his nominees, far more than recent presidents.

0102030405060Not qualifiedWell qualifiedQualified6.1%0%30.351.5TRUMPTrump’s nominees have the most not qualified ratings01020304050607080Not qualifiedWell qualifiedQualified35.464.6OBAMA01020304050607080Not qualifiedWell qualifiedQualified1.93%29.866.81W. BUSHNote: Trump made 66 nominations in his first year. Pending ratings not included. Obama nominated 500 nominations and Bush 467 during their administration. Ratings were simplified by taking the majority rating of each nomination.Sources: American Bar Assn., Federal Judicial Center

Nearly every presidential administration since 1953 has sought out the ABA’s assessments before deciding who to nominate to the federal bench. President George W. Bush is the only other president besides Trump to ignore the ratings.

Republican leadership recently criticized the ABA’s ratings as partisan, despite the group saying its review process is independent.

ABA scores are based on assessments of a candidate’s “integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament” not on their politics or ideologies, according to the committee’s guidelines. The assessments include examining questionnaires candidates fill out, legal writings, and interviews with the nominee as well as colleagues and others in the legal field.

The vetting process, no matter how thorough and precise the ABA claims to be, isn’t without fault. U.S. District Court judge nominee Matthew S. Petersen was rated as “Qualified” despite being unable to answer basic questions about law when Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) questioned him at his confirmation hearing.

Petersen later withdrew his nomination. The White House was forced to withdraw two other nominees due to insufficient vetting. Leonard Steven Grasz is the only Article III judge to be confirmed who was rated “Not Qualified” by the ABA.

Of the 23 confirmed judges, only nine have previous judicial experience and most have backgrounds in litigation in either private practice or government.

While some of the judges were questioned for conservative opinions they’ve expressed in the past, the question of how they will individually affect the courts remains.

“There is no doubt that his nominees are generally conservative,” said Columbia Law School professor Jamal Greene. “There is also no way of measuring that question objectively, since the majority of them have no prior judicial experience.”

Confirmed judge

ABA rating

Previous judicial experience?

Main fields of experience


Neil M. Gorsuch

Associate Justice


Amy Coney Barrett

7th Circuit

Stephanos Bibas

3rd Circuit

Allison H. Eid

10th Circuit

Academia, state judiciary

Ralph R. Erickson

8th Circuit

State judiciary, litigation

L. Steven Grasz

8th Circuit

Gregory G. Katsas

District of Columbia Circuit

State judiciary, academia

Kevin Newsom

11th Circuit

State judiciary, government, academia

State judiciary, policy, govermemt


Michael Lawrence Brown

Northern District of Georgia

William L. Campbell Jr.

Middle District of Tennessee

Donald C. Coggins Jr.

District of South Carolina

Walter David Counts III

Western District of Texas

Federal Judiciary, litigation

Dabney L. Friedrich

District of Columbia

Policy, litigation, government

Timothy J. Kelly

District of Columbia

Trevor N. McFadden

District of Columbia

Litigation, policy, government

David Nye

District of Idaho

Scott L. Palk

Western District of Oklahoma

Thomas Lee Robinson Parker

Western District of Oklahoma

Federal Judiciary, litigation

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