When President Bush II left the White House in 2009, the 13 U.S. courts of appeal were firmly under Republican appointees’ control. Ten appeals courts had majority GOP judges, two were evenly split and only one had a majority of Democrats. President Obama’s 49 appeals court appointees have dramatically altered the landscape. As of the Senate’s recess on May 23, nine of those courts had majority Democratic appointees and four had Republican majorities.
(There are 10 vacancies in the circuit courts. One Obama nominee is awaiting a Senate vote and three nominees pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.) The change, much feared by Republicans, is not necessarily shocking. But the transformation, in just 5 1/2 years, said University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur D. Hellman, an authority on the federal circuit courts, marks ”a huge shift in a very short period of time.” And it means that Democratic appointed judges “have the ability to control every important case if they wish to” in those nine circuits, he said.
Timothy B. Lee: Obama Has Secured Democratic Majorities On Most Federal Appeals Courts
A president’s Supreme Court nominees get a lot of attention, but presidents shape less visible parts of the judiciary too. Barack Obama is no exception. The Washington Post has a chart showing how the president has changed the composition of the nation’s appeals courts over the last five and a half years: Now, it’s important to say that courts are not supposed to be partisan institutions.
Still, Democratic judicial nominees tend to be more liberal than Republican nominees. And so the growing number of Democrat-appointed judges in our appeals courts will push American jurisprudence to the left on a wide range of issues. And because Obama’s nominees will stay on the bench long after Obama leaves office, these nominations will be one of his most durable legacies.