Brace yourselves. This one’s depressing.
In his early months in office, the courts have stood in the way of some of Donald Trump’s worst abuses. But he can change that—and he’s working on it. Trump inherited 108 judicial vacancies, thanks in large part to Senate Republicans having obstructed former President Obama’s nominations. Trump has already nominated 21 new judges, compared to just six for Obama at this point in his first term. And he is nominating the hardest core of the hard right, essentially building a pipeline from the Federalist Society to the federal bench:
A good chunk of Trump’s judicial nominees so far have come through recommendations from The Federalist Society, a right-wing legal organization. Its executive vice president, Leonard Leo, was instrumental in helping the White House put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. He recommended Gorsuch to Trump last fall and took a temporary leave from his job earlier this year to help prepare Gorsuch for his Senate confirmation hearing.
These people could be shaping American law for a generation. They will be in a position to allow Trump to have his way on things that judges not directly chosen off a Federalist Society list would reject as unconstitutional. They will be in a position to block the next Democratic president from undoing Trump’s damage. They will make it more difficult for there to be a next Democratic president, because they will have significant say over electoral law.
It has been a relief to see how often Trump has stumbled and failed at enacting the worst parts of his legislative agenda so far. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t doing lasting damage to American law and American justice.