Trump Finally Moves to Fill Empty Seats on Federal Courts

White House pledges to ramp up political, judicial appointments as conservatives fret pace

by Jim Stinson | Updated 21 Nov 2017 at 9:25 AM

The White House announced it would fill 10 judicial vacancies on federal courts Monday, welcome news to conservatives who have fretted the slow pace of appointments, both in the administration and the courts, made by the White House.

Trump even suggested his White House may never fill some of the top political jobs in the government, in an interview last week with the Washington Examiner.

“If you don’t do that, I don’t care how many executive orders you write — they’re not going to be carried out.”

While those posts didn’t include judicial vacancies, the remark only created more anxiety in general about unfilled positions — a problem supporters worry will undermine the ability of the White House to deliver on key agenda items. There are roughly 9,000 total positions made by presidential appointments in the federal government, but roughly 5,000 of those are typically held by career civil servants who typically continue to serve in a new administration.

That leaves roughly 4,000 positions Trump needed to fill when he took office on January 20. Of those 4,000, roughly 1,200 positions require senate confirmation and 500 of those are considered “key” positions of substantial importance to the administration.

Of those 500, Trump has nominated just 41 candidates and has received senate confirmation of just 26 of those nominated, as of April 28, according to the Partnership for Public Service. That means the administration is attempting to implement the president’s agenda with just five percent of key positions filled in the federal government.

There are also 129 vacancies Trump can fill in federal district and appellate courts.

At Monday’s daily press briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer said the White House has numerous items of paperwork to fill out for every nominee, and has to do quite a bit of vetting.

Responding to a question from LifeZette, Spicer said Trump was mindful of taxpayer costs associated with paying for the positions in government, but was also mindful that the longer he waits to fill key posts, the more time and power he cedes to the liberal-leaning courts and bureaucracy.

“We have a very robust schedule of releasing names,” said Spicer. “But the president’s point that he was making in that interview was that part of the review of government is to make sure that we’re looking at these positions and figuring out whether or not the taxpayer is getting the best bang for their buck, both in terms of productivity and cost.”

Trump’s comments to the Examiner kicked off serious concern from conservatives who were worried Trump was ceding massive power to the liberal bureaucracy and the courts.

Trump told the Examiner, “We don’t want to fill all of the vacancies, we won’t fill all of the vacancies. We don’t need so many of these people.”

Experienced conservatives told LifeZette Trump must take another look at filling management positions in the federal government, positions key to implementing an agenda.

“If you don’t do that, I don’t care how many executive orders you write — they’re not going to be carried out,” Robert Moffit, a former assistant director of the Office of Personnel Management in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, told LifeZette last week.

On Monday, as if to assuage concerns, Trump named 10 judges to federal positions in what the White House called its “third wave” of judicial nominations. Reaction to the choices from conservatives was positive, but the media, predictably, said Trump was filling the courts with conservatives.

Trump’s choices are efforts to “pack the nation’s federal courts with more conservative voices,” according to Vivian Salama, White House reporter for the Associated Press.

Conservatives welcomed the new appointments.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the conservative-leaning Judicial Crisis Network, said Trump focused on the Supreme Court vacancy in the first weeks of his presidency. Trump filled that slot with Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado, who is now a justice.

On federal judges, Trump is far ahead of where President George W. Bush was in May 2001, said Severino. And Bush didn’t have a Supreme Court vacancy in his first year of office.

“It doesn’t matter it took [Trump] a little longer to get this first batch out,” said Severino. “I do think we’ll see it speed up from here on out.”

In a late Monday nominations announcement, Trump named:

  • Amy Coney Barrett, of Indiana, to be circuit judge for the 7th Circuit.
  • John Kenneth Bush, of Kentucky, to be circuit judge for the 6th Circuit.
  • Joan Louise Larsen, of Michigan, to be circuit judge for the 6th Circuit.
  • Kevin Christopher Newsom, of Alabama, to be circuit judge for the 11th Circuit.
  • David C. Nye, of Idaho, to be district judge for the District of Idaho.
  • Scott L. Palk, of Oklahoma, to be district judge for the Western District of Oklahoma.
  • Damien Michael Schiff, of California, to be a judge of the Court of Federal Claims for a term of 15 years.
  • David Ryan Stras, of Minnesota, to be circuit judge for the 8th Circuit.
  • Dabney L. Friedrich, of Washington, D.C., to be district judge for the District of Columbia.
  • Terry F. Moorer, of Alabama, to be district judge for the Middle District of Alabama.
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