President Trump broke the record this week for the most federal appeals court judges confirmed during a president’s first year in office, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled it's likely the pace of confirmations will continue at a brisk pace in the new year.
The Senate approved three of the president’s federal judicial nominees this week alone: Don Willett of Texas to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Leonard Steven Grasz of Nebraska to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and James C. Ho of Texas to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
With Ho’s confirmation Thursday, the president surpassed former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon with the highest number of federal appeals court judges confirmed. Both Kennedy and Nixon saw 11 judges approved by the full Senate. Trump now has 12, the highest number since the circuit courts were created in 1891.
During his first year in office, former President Barack Obama had three circuit court judges approved, and former President George W. Bush had six.
“Proud to say the judiciary committee + the senate made history 2day by confirming the 12th circuit judge this year. the MOST in the 1st yr of any president in the 228 yr history of our country,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, tweeted Thursday.
Proud to say the judiciary committee + the senate made history 2day by confirming the 12th circuit judge this year. the MOST in the 1st yr of any president in the 228 yr history of our country— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) December 14, 2017
McConnell also cheered the “historic judicial confirmation process.”
“Today, the Senate will continue another historic week confirming more of President Trump’s impressive judicial nominees to the federal bench,” McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Thursday before senators voted on Ho's nomination.
McConnell and Grassley have overseen a rigorous pace of confirming the president’s judicial nominees, delivering Trump with judicial victories while the GOP-led Congress has struggled to deliver legislative achievements.
It's unlikely that pace will change heading into 2018. McConnell reiterated his commitment to bringing Trump's circuit court nominees to the Senate floor once they advance out of the Judiciary Committee in an interview with Fox News on Thursday.
"My role in it is I have to decide what to bring up. When do you call something up? Everything is competing for floor time in the Senate," the majority leader said. "Every time a circuit judge comes out of the Judiciary Committee, I call them up. And so we are in the process, with [Trump's] excellent nominees, of completely transforming America's judiciary. We hope to be able to do that for a full four years throughout this term."
Though Grassley and McConnell applauded the speed with which the Senate has approved Trump’s judicial nominees, Democrats have seen it as an issue.
“I’ve served on the Judiciary Committee since January 1993, and during my entire tenure our committee has never held hearings for five circuit court nominees in a single month,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the committee’s ranking member, said late last month. “In fact, the committee considered just five circuit court nominees during the final two years of the Obama presidency. So only five were considered during Obama’s final two years and now the committee is moving he same number of nominees in a single month.”
But when Democrats threatened to slow down the pace in October, Republicans responded by threatening to hold the Senate over the weekend to make sure the nominees got through. That seemed to work — Democrats relented, and allowed a much faster pace for considering Trump's nominees.
Because Democrats changed Senate rules in 2013, Republicans can confirm whoever they want, as long as they agree within the party. Nominees can advance with a simple majority vote, instead of the 60 votes that were needed before the rule change.
Still, several of the president's U.S. district court nominees have faced scrutiny from Grassley. Last week, for example, the Judiciary Committee chairman encouraged the White House to withdraw the nominations of Brett Talley, Trump's nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, and Jeff Mateer, who was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
Talley was criticized for his lack of trial experience, having never tried a case. He also received a "not qualified" rating from the American Bar Association, and failed to disclose his wife on a Senate questionnaire when asked to list family members who may present conflicts of interest. Talley's wife, Ann Donaldson, is chief of staff to White House general counsel Don McGahn.
The White House said neither nomination would proceed.