These Judges Are Shifting the Appeals Courts to the Right

President Trump made overhauling the federal judiciary one of his top priorities, moving with particular speed to infuse the highly influential appeals courts with reliably conservative judges.

Working with his Republican allies in the Senate, he installed 51 judges in just three years — appointing more than a quarter of the appellate bench at a record pace.

The New York Times conducted a deep examination of the new judges to obtain a collective portrait of the group. It included interviews with people close to the nomination process, a review of biographical information submitted to the Senate by Mr. Trump’s appointees and those of his last two predecessors, former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and an analysis of published decisions and dissents by the judges.

The article on the findings can be found here. These are some of the takeaways about the new judges.

Much like Mr. Trump himself, many of the new judges break longstanding conventions and have backgrounds that differ significantly from those named by Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush.

They were more openly engaged in conservative causes important to Republicans, such as opposition to gay marriage and to government funding for abortion. They often have political experience on their résumés, including posts in the federal government. They also more typically donated money to political candidates and causes.

All but eight had ties to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group that has been central to the White House’s appointment process and ascendant in Republican circles in recent years for its advocacy of strictly interpreting the Constitution.

These are lifetime appointments, and Mr. Trump has put a premium on appointing young judges.

Thirty-three percent were under 45 when appointed, compared with just five percent under Mr. Obama and 19 percent under Mr. Bush. The median age was five-and-a-half years younger than it was under Mr. Obama, and three-and-a-half years younger than under Mr. Bush.

Mr. Trump has also reversed a trend of increasing diversity on the appellate bench under Mr. Obama. Two-thirds of Mr. Trump’s appointees are white men.

Many of the appointees have elite credentials, with nearly half having trained as lawyers at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago or Yale, and more than a third having clerked for a Supreme Court justice. That surpasses the appointees of both Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush.

In less partisan times, many of the new judges, with their polarizing paper trails and histories of fighting for Republican causes, would have lacked a clear path to confirmation because of Senate customs meant to ensure bipartisan consensus over judicial nominees.

But some of those customs have been tossed aside, allowing Republicans, who control the Senate, to get their way even when Democrats object.

Two-thirds of the new appellate judges failed to win the support of 60 senators, historically a requirement of consensus that was first jettisoned by the Democratic-controlled Senate midway through the Obama administration.

When Republicans gained the majority, they followed suit and took the custom-breaking even further. They did away with a courtesy that allowed senators to sign off on nominees for courts in their home states. That meant Mr. Trump did not have to compromise on his picks in states with a Democratic senator; about a third of his appointees did not get the signoff.

The Times analyzed more than 10,000 published decisions and dissents since Mr. Trump took office and found that his appointees continued to stand out after they joined the bench.

There is a culture of consensus in most appellate courts, and in the cases reviewed by The Times, judges appointed by presidents of both parties agreed with one another the vast majority of times. But when they did not, the Trump appointees made a difference.

They were notably more likely than their peers on the bench to agree with Republican appointees and to disagree with Democratic appointees — suggesting they are more consistently conservative.

On panels of three judges that had members appointed by presidents of the same party, dissent occurred just 7 percent of the time. The rate jumped to 12 percent on panels that included a mix of judges appointed by both Democrats and Republicans.

But when a Trump appointee wrote an opinion for a panel with a lone Democrat, or served as the only Republican appointee, the dissent rate rose to 17 percent.

That means the likelihood of a split decision was nearly 1.5 times higher when a Trump appointee heard the case.

About a third of the new judges have taken seats formerly occupied by appointees of Democratic presidents. As a result, the judges have forged new majorities of Republican appointees in three appellate circuits, including those based in Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia.

The Trump appointees have also significantly narrowed the edge held by appointees of Democratic presidents in the largest and most reliably liberal circuit, the Ninth, based in San Francisco.

While federal judges of all stripes take an oath of impartiality and reject the notion that they do a president’s bidding, there is an ideological divide between liberal and conservative jurists about how best to interpret many laws and the Constitution. An unequal split between Democratic and Republican appointees can give a court a distinct reputation as liberal or conservative.


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