Senate Republicans, still furious over Democrats’ smearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, have been barreling ahead and confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees at a historically fast pace.
With 84 of his judges already confirmed — 29 of them at the appellate level, a record number for the first two years of a presidential administration — Trump appointees make up one-sixth of the active judges on the federal bench.
“This White House has made the judiciary a priority,” said Carrie Severino of Judicial Crisis Network, a right-leading advocacy group.
Before new judges can be confirmed by the full Senate to seats on federal circuit and district courts, they must appear for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee’s chair, allowed two hearings to go forward in October even while senators were on their pre-election recess, a historical first. Ten candidates vaulted over that procedural hurdle during that quiet time.
Only two GOP senators attended one hearing on Oct. 24, where candidates for the lifetime appointments faced as little as six minutes of softball questions about their judicial philosophy.
In the Oct. 17 hearing, one nominee’s 7-year-old son took the witness stand to tell four Republican senators, “The law keeps us safe.”
“And vote for my daddy,” Bryce Smith added from his perch on his father’s lap. Rodney Smith is up for a seat on the court for Florida’s southern district.
“I don’t want you to ever run against me, Bryce,” answered Sen. John N. Kennedy (R-Louisiana).
Democrats took offense.
“The Committee has never before held nominations hearings while the Senate is in recess before an election,” the body’s 10 Democratic members complained in a protest letter Oct 15.
But none of them — not even those who weren’t fighting re-election battles, like Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) — bothered to show up and put up a Spartacus-like challenge to the president’s picks.
Democrats have also lodged objections to other GOP tactics meant to hurry the confirmation process.
Republicans no longer halt a nomination when a candidate’s home-state senator objects to it, a traditional courtesy known as the “blue slip.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also orchestrated mass confirmation votes for up to 15 nominees at a time on the Senate floor.
Republicans, for their part, accuse the Democrats of deliberately dragging their feet on Trump’s nominees. A candidate whose confirmation hearing was held Nov. 13 had been waiting since April for his nomination to move forward.
Transforming the federal bench is serious business for conservatives.
“This has a generational impact,” Severino said.
“If they can’t pass legislation, liberals have used the courts to rewrite the laws,” she said. “It took a while for conservatives to realize what was happening and to push back.”
Republican senators plan to speed the latest batch of confirmations through its lame-duck session after this week’s Thanksgiving recess.
And they have no intention of slowing the conga line in the new Congress, says Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who is likely to succeed Grassley in January.
“If I’m chairman next year, we are going to do judges, judges, and more judges,” Graham said Wednesday.
At least 86 more Trump-nominated judicial candidates are waiting to be confirmed.