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Often Overlooked, Judicial Appointments Issue Looms in Election

More than 200 federal judges have been appointed since President Trump took office.(Mariakray/Adobe Stock)
More than 200 federal judges have been appointed since President Trump took office.(Mariakray/Adobe Stock)
October 26, 2020

SEATTLE -- A lot of focus is on the likely confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court today. But federal judicial appointments to lower courts could be just as crucial to the legacy of the Trump presidency.

Larry Shannon, government affairs director at the Washington State Association for Justice, said lifetime selections for district, circuit and appeals court judgeships will have impacts for decades to come.

"It affects our lives in so many ways that are clear and that are hidden to us," Shannon said; "ways that we can't even necessarily anticipate right now."

As Republicans have controlled the Senate and presidency for the past four years, they've been able to appoint 219 judges under President Donald Trump, according to the American Constitution Society. Trump inherited more than 100 vacancies because Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to confirm most of President Barack Obama's appointments in his final two years in the White House.

Shannon is concerned the fast-tracking of nominations has led to the approval some unqualified candidates, including ideology-driven judges and nominees with no trial experience. He said this could tarnish the image of the courts.

"The bottom line is going to be a destruction in people's faith in the courts as a neutral arbiter of what's right and what the law is supposed to be," Shannon said.

Sen. McConnell has touted the record number of appointments over the past four years as one of his greatest achievements during his time in office.

Shannon sees the impact of these judges stretching far beyond hot-button social issues. He said the role of corporations and insurance companies are decided in federal courts.

"Issues around liability, around employment, around discrimination are becoming more and more of an eye of the needle that any injured person is going to have to get through in order to maintain a claim as the law gets whittled down and more and more barriers are put up," he said.

Shannon said he hopes the process of appointing federal judges will be less partisan after this election.

"There needs to be a level of quality and independence in the judiciary," he said. "And if we don't have that, we really start to tear out the fabric of faith and trust in our institutions that is so fundamental to our democratic republic."

Disclosure: Washington State Association for Justice contributes to our fund for reporting on Consumer Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA