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Trump Is Outpacing the Past 5 Presidents in Appeals Court Appointments

Michael Foust | Contributor | Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Trump Is Outpacing the Past 5 Presidents in Appeals Court Appointments

Trump Is Outpacing the Past 5 Presidents in Appeals Court Appointments

President Trump is outpacing President Obama and every other recent president in appointments to the U.S. federal appeals courts, according to a new analysis that says Trump’s legacy in the legal system will be felt “long after” he leaves office. 

“In less than three years as president, President Trump has done nearly as much to shape the courts as President Obama did in eight years,” Ian Millhiser wrote for in an article with the subtitle, “No president in recent memory has done more to change the judiciary than Donald Trump.”

Millhiser’s analysis was shared on social media by liberals and conservative leaders this week including by National Right to Life President Carol Tobias, who accompanied the link with a smiling emoji. 

“He’s filled the bench with some of the smartest, and some of the most ideologically reliable, men and women to be found in the conservative movement,” Millhiser wrote. “Long after Trump leaves office, these judges will shape American law – pushing it further and further to the right even if the voters soundly reject Trumpism in 2020.”

For starters, Trump’s Supreme Court nominees tipped the ideological balance more so than Obama’s, even though each man nominated two justices. That’s because Trump replaced the moderate/conservative Anthony Kennedy with Brett Kavanaugh, who is thought by experts to be more conservative than his predecessor. Obama’s liberal nominees simply “maintained the balance of power” instead of tipping the scales, Millhiser wrote.

Trump’s impact on the court of appeals has been just as significant. Trump has appointed 48 judges to the nation’s federal appeals courts – “twice as fast” as Obama, who had appointed 24 at this point in his presidency, Vox reported. Trump’s 48 appeals court appointments also are more than Presidents George W. Bush (30), Clinton (27), George H.W. Bush (31) and Reagan (23) had appointed at this point in their presidencies, Vox said

During his entire eight years, Obama appointed 55 appeals court judges. 

Most legal cases are resolved at the trial level and appeals court levels, and not at the Supreme Court. 

“The Supreme Court really only hears about 1 percent of the appeals that are filed in a year, and that means those circuit court of appeals' decisions end up typically being the final word on a case,” Lathan Watts, the director of legal communications for First Liberty Institute, previously told Christian Headlines. “So his nominees and then their confirmation to the circuit court of appeals don't always get the same sort of attention that maybe a Supreme Court pick does. But they are extremely important because, in most cases, their opinion ends up being the final opinion.”

Additionally, Trump’s appeals court appointments have impressive legal résumés. About 40 percent of them clerked for a Supreme Court justice, and 80 percent on a federal appeals court. That compares to “less than a quarter of Obama’s nominees who clerked on the Supreme Court, and less than half with a federal appellate clerkship,” Millhiser wrote.

“In other words, based solely on objective legal credentials, the average Trump appointee has a far more impressive résumé than any past president’s nominees,” Millhiser wrote.

Trump’s nominees are also young, with an average age of less than 50 years old. Trump has bragged that his nominees are 10 years younger, on average, than Obama’s nominees. 

“Trump’s nominees will serve for years or even decades after being appointed,” Millhiser wrote. “... There is simply no recent precedent for one president having such a transformative impact on the courts.”


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Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog,

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Joe Raedle/Staff

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.