October 14, 2017

KIMBERLY STRASSEL: Scalias All the Way Down: While the press goes wild over tweets, Trump is remaking the federal judiciary.

The media remains so caught up with the president’s tweets that it has missed Mr. Trump’s project to transform the rest of the federal judiciary. The president is stocking the courts with a class of brilliant young textualists bearing little relation to even their Reagan or Bush predecessors. Mr. Trump’s nastygrams to Bob Corker will be a distant memory next week. Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett’s influence on the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could still be going strong 40 years from now.

Mr. Trump has now nominated nearly 60 judges, filling more vacancies than Barack Obama did in his entire first year. There are another 160 court openings, allowing Mr. Trump to flip or further consolidate conservative majorities on the circuit courts that have the final say on 99% of federal legal disputes.

This project is the work of Mr. Trump, White House Counsel Don McGahn and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Every new president cares about the judiciary, but no administration in memory has approached appointments with more purpose than this team.

Mr. Trump makes the decisions, though he’s taking cues from Mr. McGahn and his team. The Bushies preferred a committee approach: Dozens of advisers hunted for the least controversial nominee with the smallest paper trail. That helped get picks past a Senate filibuster, but it led to bland choices, or to ideological surprises like retired Justice David Souter.

Harry Reid’s 2013 decision to blow up the filibuster for judicial nominees has freed the Trump White House from having to worry about a Democratic veto during confirmation. Mr. McGahn’s team (loaded with former Clarence Thomas clerks) has carte blanche to work with outside groups like the Federalist Society to tap the most conservative judges.

Mr. McGahn has long been obsessed with constitutional law and the risks of an all-powerful administrative state. His crew isn’t subjecting candidates to 1980s-style litmus tests on issues like abortion. Instead the focus is on promoting jurists who understand the unique challenges of our big-government times. Can the prospective nominee read a statute? Does he or she defer to the government’s view of its own authority? The result has been a band of young rock stars and Scalia-style textualists like Ms. Barrett, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett and Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David Stras.

And so far, the Senate has kept it together.

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