Judicial Nominations & Trump Administration: Conservatives Getting Better Judges than Previous Republican Presidents


Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a Libertarian candidate for president, has been discussing Trump’s record on judicial issues with the legal scholar Randy Barnett, the journalist Guy Benson, and others. Amash thinks that Senator McConnell should get more credit than Trump for the federal judiciary’s right turn.

Amash thinks that because judicial nominees can no longer be filibustered, Trump can get more conservative judges on the bench than previous Republicans were able to do. That argument actually suggests that Harry Reid should get most of the credit, since it was under his leadership that Senate Democrats ended the possibility of filibuster for most federal judicial nominees. (McConnell led Republicans to eliminate it for Supreme Court nominees in 2017.)

The essentially unchallenged premise of this discussion is that conservatives are getting better judges during the Trump administration than we got from previous Republican presidents. That premise is correct, and my pessimistic prediction from 2016 about how Trump would handle judicial appointments has thankfully been disproven.

One point that I think has been lost in the back-and-forth from Amash and the rest: Every Republican president since the 1970s has had a better track record on judges than his predecessors.

Trump’s two Supreme Court nominees were more conservative overall than George W. Bush’s three, and his were in turn more conservative than George H. W. Bush’s two. I think the explanations for this trend have to include the increased attention of conservative voters to judicial issues, and the development and maturation of a network of conservative lawyers who could identify and vet qualified conservative nominees.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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