Earlier this month, at the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America conference, Mitch McConnell said he is “putting a priority on changing the courts.” And it is true that he has engineered the confirmation of 12 circuit court nominations in President Donald Trump’s first year — more such nominations than any other president has enjoyed in an initial year. A close examination of the numbers, however, proves that progress in filling judicial slots has been quite slow.
In fact, there are more federal judicial vacancies now than when President Trump took office. A lot more.
According to the official list of judicial vacancies detailed at uscourts.gov, in February of 2017, just as the president took office, there were 117 total federal court vacancies, including one in the Supreme Court, 18 in the circuit courts, 90 in the district courts and a few others in miscellaneous courts. As of this month, however, there were 149 total vacancies (only a few of which have been filled in the past several weeks), which included 17 in the circuit courts and 124 in the district courts.
So, total vacancies between the inauguration and today have actually increased by about 30. And, to make matters worse, about half of the approximately 70 judicial nominations the president has made that have not been confirmed have been vetted and cleared by the Senator Grassley’s Judiciary Committee, according to Mike Davis, the committee’s chief counsel for nominations. Despite the clearances, the nominees have not even been voted on by the full Senate.
To summarize: The Judiciary Committee has already vetted and approved about 68 nominations, but the full Senate has only voted on 32, which is less than half.
Does this prove judicial confirmations have really been made a “priority” for Mitch McConnell? No, at least not in my view.
It is precisely because so many nominations have not been pushed to the forefront with cloture votes (required as a matter of course because so many of the president’s nominations have been stalled by democrats) that I and a group of other conservative and libertarian activists formed CommonSenseJudiciary.org, a small grass roots group designed to draw attention to this issue where it matters most to Senator McConnell: in Kentucky.
By placing ads in small newspapers in Kentucky and distributing thousands of handbills we have started to attract attention and have gained good allies, such as Dr. Frank Simon, president of the Tea Party of Kentucky, and Richard Lewis, a former congressional candidate active with TakeBackKentucky.com.
Much work remains to be done, however.
Can such conservatives and libertarians force the majority leader of the United States Senate to speed up cloture votes and confirmations, and thereby fill judicial vacancies? I know they can. I have been leading a somewhat similar grassroots conservative group in Louisiana for several years now. With minimal funding that is spent with surgical precision along with plenty of sweat, this grass roots group has earned victory after victory in our own state legislature. Lobbyists and big bucks aren’t always required to push a legislator. All that is needed is just copious amounts of citizen energy and good combat strategies. (See HdfNola.org for the proof.)
Perhaps good strategies and citizen energy will force Senator McConnell to match his conduct with his words soon. Conservatives and libertarians better hope so, for the judicial branch now controls practically every issue in modern society, from gay marriage, to DACA, to what firearms a mother may use to defend her home and children. It is more important than ever that this branch is peopled by those who understand the proper limits of government power in a free society.
Mike Weinberger, a past president of the New York City chapter of the Federalist Society, is a retired attorney and businessman living in New Orleans.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.