As Year Ends, MSNBC Panics Over Surge in Conservative Judges

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With 2019 drawing to a close, MSNBC took some time to reflect on the “greatest achievement of Mitch McConnell or President Trump,” namely the confirmation of scores of conservative federal judges. The liberal cable channel was certainly not celebrating the news, with anchors fearing how the appointments “will affect the laws of the land for years to come” and plotting ways for Democrats to “counter” the GOP success.

“The Trump administration has done more to shape the courts in just one term than any other president in recent history,” anchor Ali Velshi announced at the top of December 16 segment on MSNBC Live With Velshi and Ruhle. He then warned: “It’s a strategy that will affect the laws of the land for years to come.”

 

 

The host provided some numbers:

Since taking office, President Trump has nominated a whopping 234 federal judges. 174 of whom have been confirmed....President Trump has named a total of 50 judges to appeal courts, compare that to President Obama’s total of 55 judges to the Appeals Court in the entire eight years at the White House. And at this point in the Obama presidency, he had only confirmed 24 federal Appeals Court judges courts.

After detailing the success of the Trump administration in filling judicial vacancies, Velshi fretted: “Keep in mind, these judges serve lifetime appointments, so their tenure could last decades. And even if President Trump is removed from office or defeated by a Democrat in 2020, his judicial appointees will still hold the power to push a conservative agenda.”

As if that wasn’t enough to scare their liberal viewers, Velshi and co-host Stephanie Ruhle brought on author and attorney Danielle McLaughlin to discuss her book, The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back From Liberals.

Ruhle worried: “It’s extraordinary. I mean, Republicans focus heavily on stacking the courts, many people say it is the greatest achievement of Mitch McConnell or President Trump.” She then implored: “Where do Democrats factor into this? Do they have a counter to the Federalist Society machine?”

McLaughlin lamented: “That is the question of 2020. And if they didn’t get it right in 2016, I have great concerns that they’re gonna get it wrong again in 2020.”

After noting how “Trump had a list of Federalist Society-approved nominees,” an exasperated McLaughlin whined: “But, for the life of me, I cannot figure out what Democrats are doing. Literally they’re – I think that they’re just hoping that Ruth Bader Ginsburg survives and that he doesn’t get reelected. There’s no plan for this big problem.”

Ruhle complained: “It is impossible to overstate how much influence Mitch McConnell has over all of this. On Fox News just a few days ago, he was boasting – and he can, right – boasting about how he blocked President Obama’s judicial appointments for years.”

Following the clip, McLaughlin bitterly ranted:

And this idea that Republicans take some gleeful pleasure in messing up the system and messing with the system and stopping a president from really exercising the power that is given to them, you know, fundamentally under the Constitution. They didn’t even bring Merrick Garland up for a vote. They are advice and consent – is obviously a power that the Senate has – but they didn’t even exercise it. So I think that for all they talk about standing by the Constitution and being the party of law and order, in fact, they have been historically obstructionist. And I really think that, as it related to President Obama especially, they didn’t do what the Constitution required them to do.

Trump and Senate Republicans actually fulfilling their obligation to name judges to the federal bench is like a giant lump of coal in the stocking of the liberal media.

Here is a full transcript of the December 16 segment:

1:16 PM ET

ALI VELSHI: The Trump administration has done more to shape the courts in just one term than any other president in recent history. It’s a strategy that will affect the laws of the land for years to come.

Let me show you a little bit about this. Since taking office, President Trump has nominated a whopping 234 federal judges. 174 of whom have been confirmed. These confirmations are broken down by U.S. District courts, the U.S. Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court.

And while the President has two Supreme Court nominations under his belt, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court of Appeals is where the Trump administration has had the most influence. Right now, according to the Federal Judicial Center, more than more than one quarter of active judges in the United States are Trump appointees.

Let me give you some context. President Trump has named a total of 50 judges to appeal courts, compare that to President Obama’s total of 55 judges to the Appeals Court in the entire eight years at the White House. And at this point in the Obama presidency, he had only confirmed 24 federal Appeals Court judges courts.

So why does all this matter? Well, there are 13 appellate courts that sit blow the Supreme Court. They are designed to review whether or not the law was applied correctly in a trial and the decisions made by Appeals Court judges are usually – usually the final case – the final word of the case.

Keep in mind, these judges serve lifetime appointments, so their tenure could last decades. And even if President Trump is removed from office or defeated by a Democrat in 2020, his judicial appointees will still hold the power to push a conservative agenda.

Let’s talk about this a but little more with somebody who knows it very well. Joining us now is the author of The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back From Liberals, attorney Danielle McLaughlin. Danielle, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

DANIELLE MCLAUGHLIN: Great to be back, thanks guys.

STEPHANIE RUHLE: It’s extraordinary. I mean, Republicans focus heavily stacking the courts, many people say it is the greatest achievement of Mitch McConnell or President Trump. Where do Democrats factor into this? Do they have a counter to the Federalist Society machine?

MCLAUGHLIN: That is the question of 2020. And if they didn’t get it right in 2016, I have great concerns that they’re gonna get it wrong again in 2020. As we all know, President Trump had a list of Federalist Society-approved nominees. He went around and told people that these were the people that he was going to put on courts. And this is exactly what he has done.

There is sort of an equivalent called the American Constitution Society, to fend off the conservative side, of course. But, for the life of me, I cannot figure out what Democrats are doing. Literally they’re – I think that they’re just hoping that Ruth Bader Ginsburg survives and that he doesn’t get reelected. There’s no plan for this big problem.

RUHLE: But hold on, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as important as that seat is, it’s just one seat.

MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

RUHLE: What Ali just went through was federal judge appointments. Those are lifetime appointments.

MCLAUGHLIN: Right, so the Supreme Court gets a lot of the noise and the attention. This is where we hear a lot of the big Second Amendment cases. This is where we hear the big abortion cases. But they only get there once they’ve been through a federal appellate court. My concern, and this is looking out, his appointees are very young. Ten years, on average, younger than Obama appointees. This is how you get to the Supreme Court, if there’s a Circuit split. But if we get to a point where we have a lot of conservatives within those appellate courts, maybe we’re not going to get those splits and we’re not going to get these crucial questions answered by the Supreme Court.

VELSHI: That go to the Supreme Court.

MCLAUGHLIN: Exactly. There’s about 150 cases heard by the Court every year, 7,000 or so, actually get sent up. It’s a tiny majority – a tiny minority that actually get to the Supreme Court.

VELSHI: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: The appellate court, actually Justice Sotomayor called them sort of the policymaking courts because they really decide what the law is.

VELSHI: Yeah, you’re right. We don’t cover it as much. Let’s talk about the vacancies. As of December 2nd, there were 98 vacancies in the federal judiciary. Talk to me about why there so many vacancies. Are there always a large number?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, no, this goes back to the, I think, historic actions of Mitch McConnell and other during the Obama presidency. I think we had the Senate for about 14 months, a majority in the Senate. We actually got rid of the filibuster, which has come back to bite us. The idea that you used to have to have a majority – a super majority to approve a federal judge or an appellate court judge, but now it’s only a simple majority. And of course, that’s what Republicans have. We saw what happened with Merrick Garland and of course Gorsuch. Another thing that matters is now that Kennedy is gone, the swing vote is actually Justice John Roberts. So the sort of ideological center of the court has drifted to the right. They actually only – I think they were on the opposite sides of 5-4 decisions 50 times while they were both on the court together.

VELSHI: Wow.  

MCLAUGHLIN: So they are hardly ideologically aligned.

RUHLE: It is impossible to overstate how much influence Mitch McConnell has over all of this.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

RUHLE: On Fox News just a few days ago, he was boasting – and he can, right – boasting about how he blocked President Obama’s judicial appointments for years. Let’s watch.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL [R-KY, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER]: The most important decision I’ve made in my entire political career was not to fill the Supreme Court vacancy when Justice Scalia passed away. That was the beginning. And now we’ve got an exclamation point here after three years.

SEAN HANNITY: I was shocked that former President Obama left so many vacancies and didn’t try to fill those positions.

MCCONNELL: I’ll tell you why, I’ll tell you why, I was in charge of the – of what we did the last two years of the Obama administration.

HANNITY: And I will give you full credit for that. And by the way, take a bow. Alright, that was a good line.

VELSHI: Remarkable, everybody gets the honesty prize for that one, no one was even trying to fudge the idea.

MCLAUGHLIN: No.

VELSHI: And historically that’s not actually been the case. Typically the Senate took its responsibility of approving of judges as determining whether they were qualified, but there was some sense that the president nominates these people, they get appointed unless there’s some flaw in their qualifications.

MCLAUGHLIN: Right, so there’s sort are two things going on. The first is that we don’t have blue slips anymore, which is of course the home Senate able to basically veto a federal court nominee on the idea that they know they’re own home judges, they know what their states need, and there’s sort of a personal relationship. Blue slips are gone under Mitch McConnell. Which is hugely problematic.

I talked about the fact that we don’t have the sort the super majority requirement anymore. Although we still have it for the Supreme Court. And this idea that Republicans take some gleeful pleasure in messing up the system and messing with the system and stopping a president from really exercising the power that is given to them, you know, fundamentally under the Constitution. They didn’t even bring Merrick Garland up for a vote. They are advice and consent – is obviously a power that the Senate has – but they didn’t even exercise it. So I think that for all they talk about standing by the Constitution and being the party of law and order, in fact, they have been historically obstructionist. And I really think that, as it related to President Obama especially, they didn’t do what the Constitution required them to do.

VELSHI: Danielle, good to see you. We always learn a great deal when you are on the show, we appreciate it.

MCLAUGHLIN: Such a pleasure to be here.

VELSHI: Danielle McLaughlin is the author of The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back From Liberals.

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