Good Time for Senior Judges to Step Aside to Ensure Conservative Lean in Judiciary: Graham

May 28, 2020 Updated: May 29, 2020

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday encouraged judges in their mid-to-late 60s to consider taking senior status in order to allow Republicans to fill up the vacancies before the November election.

Graham made the comments during a radio interview on the Hugh Hewitt show where he discussed a series of topics including George Floyd, sanctions against the Chinese Communist Party over Hong Kong, and federal judiciary vacancies.

“This is an historic opportunity,” Graham told Hewitt. “We’ve put over 200 federal judges on the bench. I think one in five federal judges are Trump appointees. If you can get four more years, I mean, it would change the judiciary for several generations.”

“So if you’re a circuit judge in your mid-60s, late 60s, you can take senior status, now would be a good time to do that if you want to make sure the judiciary is right of center. This is a good time to do it,” he added.

Graham was then asked to provide an assurance that the judges’ successors would be confirmed prior to the 2020 presidential election, to which he replied, “if you wait, you know, November the 1st, no.”

Federal judges who are at least 65 years old and have served at least 15 years on the bench are eligible to take senior status, a form of semi-retirement. Senior status allows judges to choose to take on a reduced caseload and creates a vacancy on the court.

President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have made significant efforts to change the composition of the judiciary, by nominating and confirming younger conservative judges, in order to shape the long-term direction of the country. This move has drawn criticism from progressives in the country. Since taking office, the Senate has confirmed 196 federal judges nominated by Trump, including 51 appellate judges, and two Supreme Court justices.

Trump’s judge confirmation pace is the second-fastest for all U.S. presidents, according to the Article III project, a conservative group that works to confirm Trump’s judicial picks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last month that the senate’s priority after returning from recess would be on judicial nominations. He told the same radio host, Hewitt, that his “motto for the year is leave no vacancy behind.”

“And as soon as we get back in session, we’ll start confirming judges again. We need to have hearings, and we need to confirm judges,” McConnell said. “The pandemic will not prevent us from achieving that goal.”

This also comes amid accusations against McConnell that he had pressured Judge Thomas Griffith to leave the bench, in order to make way for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for Judge Justin Walker.

The chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Sri Srinivasan urged Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts earlier this month to launch an investigation into the complaint (pdf) from progressive judicial watchdog group Demand Justice, which alleges that the Washington, D.C. judge, 65, “was improperly pressured to retire from the bench” and challenges “whether his decision was made as a result of inappropriate incentives.”

Isabel Van Brugen contributed to this report.

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