WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump hit an important milestone Dec. 11, as the U.S. Senate confirmed his 50th judicial nominee to the nation’s federal courts of appeal, an event that will resonate for years to come, as the judicial branch and American jurisprudence become more ideologically conservative.
“FIFTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGES!” Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for the Judicial Crisis Network, wrote on Twitter, in all caps.
“Despite unrelenting Democratic obstruction and smear campaigns, [President Trump] and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] have fought hard to ensure that judicial vacancies are filled with the best and brightest legal minds—for decades to come.”
Severino was referring to the confirmation of Lawrence VanDyke to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals during a closely watched 51–44 vote in the U.S. Senate. The vote came a day after that body confirmed Trump nominee Patrick Bumatay to the same circuit court, on a vote of 53–40.
Both confirmations succeeded, despite the opposition of the nominees’ home-state senators. In the past, presidents have conferred with home-state senators before announcing judicial appointments, but Trump jettisoned the practice, a convention called “senatorial courtesy.”
According to Roll Call, senatorial courtesy generally “means nominees from a state are not to be confirmed unless they have been approved by the senators of the president’s party of that state, with other senators following their colleagues’ lead in the attitude they take toward consideration of such nominations.”
Trump is making faster progress on judicial confirmations than his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, and Trump’s judges are likely to serve on the bench longer, according to a Fox News analysis.
Obama “nominated a total of 55 circuit judges who were confirmed over eight years—and Obama’s nominees were, on average, approximately 10 years older.”
President Trump has worked hard to change the makeup of the historically left-leaning 9th Circuit, an important subset of the federal court system, whose judges have largely resisted his policies, particularly on immigration and national security.
Of the 30 active seats on the 9th Circuit, 10 have been filled by Trump, and 14 by Republican presidents, the Fox tally states.
“Only nine of the court’s 19 semi-retired ‘senior status’ judges were appointed by Democrats, with 10 by Republicans. That’s a major change from early last year, when only six judges on the Ninth Circuit were chosen by Republicans.”
VanDyke was vigorously attacked by Democrats, including by Nevada’s two Democratic senators, Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto, who both opposed his nomination.
VanDyke has “extreme beliefs about reproductive rights, LGBT rights, gun violence prevention, and environmental protection,” Cortez Masto said on the Senate floor Dec. 11.
The Giffords Law Center, an anti-Second Amendment group, said VanDyke had a “uniquely troublesome record” and that his “legally unsupported views on gun policy … disqualify him for a life-tenured seat on the federal bench.”
The Alliance for Justice said VanDyke “repeatedly attacked the rights of women” by supporting a pro-life Arizona law and by opposing contraceptive coverage mandated under the Obamacare law. VanDyke is also on record expressing concerns about same-sex marriage and gay parenting.
Severino, who attended Harvard Law School with VanDyke, said he was victimized by a “left-wing smear campaign.”
“You couldn’t ask for a better lawyer or a man of more exemplary character” than VanDyke, she said in a statement.
“With deep roots in the West, Lawrence is very familiar with the challenges faced by states in the 9th Circuit, and as solicitor general for Montana and Nevada, he was on the front lines of the legal challenges to the overreach by the Obama administration and its job-killing” Environmental Protection Agency, Severino said.
Bumatay, an openly gay man of Filipino ancestry, was confirmed Dec. 10.
He will be “the highest-ranking federal judge from the LGBTQ community and the highest-ranking one of Filipino descent,” according to The Advocate.
Bumatay is also “the second out LGBTQ person nominated by Trump as a federal judge,” the newspaper reports. “The first, Mary Rowland, a lesbian, was confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois last summer with bipartisan support.”
Bumatay, who was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, was approved by the Senate without the support of California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both Democrats.
“Patrick Bumatay lacks the knowledge and experience necessary for the 9th Circuit,” said Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to The Washington Times.
“He also acknowledged working on the separation of immigrant families while at the Justice Department and refused to answer questions about other controversial issues,” the senator said.
Opposition to Bumatay has more to do with his conservative judicial philosophy, his supporters have said.
“The reason the Democrats and these left-wing groups think Patrick Bumatay is unqualified is because he is a conservative judicial nominee who happens to be a minority who doesn’t fall in line with liberal orthodoxy,” said Mike Davis, president of the Article III Project, which supports Trump’s nominees to the bench.