Trump Flips Another Circuit to Majority GOP Appointees

The Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Courthouse in Atlanta, home of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate confirmed a Florida Supreme Court justice to a seat on the 11th Circuit on Wednesday, a vote that gives the Atlanta-based appeals court a majority of judges who were appointed by Republican presidents.

After an 80-15 vote confirming Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa to a seat that was held by Bill Clinton appointee Stanley Marcus, President Donald Trump has now flipped three federal circuit courts – two in the last week alone.

Barbara Lagoa. (Photo via Florida Supreme Court)

Trump’s first flip was of the Third Circuit, which gained a Republican-appointed majority in July. The Second Circuit flipped last week when the Senate narrowly confirmed White House lawyer Steven Menashi to that bench.

The 11th Circuit has 12 judges, seven of whom were appointed by Republican presidents after Lagoa’s confirmation on Wednesday. That count now includes five Trump appointees.

“This success – along with the record number of federal appellate judges President Trump has appointed to date – is a testament to the tangible impact the president has had in reshaping the federal judiciary with constitutionalist judges who are committed to the rule of law,” Carrie Severino, the chief counsel and policy director at the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, said in a tweet about Lagoa’s confirmation.

The makeup of appellate courts is significant because it makes it more likely that the three-judge panels that hear appeals will be made up of more judges appointed by a president of a particular political party. Though the party of a judge’s appointing president is not a perfect predictor of how they will vote on specific issues, it can be shorthand for the judge’s general legal philosophy.

Chris Kang, chief counsel at the progressive group Demand Justice, also noted major cases working through the federal appeals courts on issues like voting rights and health care will likely go before en banc sittings that feature all of an appeals court’s judges.
“All of these cases are likely to be considered by an en banc court where having a majority of judges appointed by a president’s party, and in particular these judges by President Trump, could be determinative,” Kang said in an interview.

The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Lagoa has served on the Florida Supreme Court since earlier this year, when she was appointed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. Before that, Lagoa served as a judge on Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal from 2006 to 2019 and worked as a federal prosecutor in Miami.

A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Lagoa also spent a decade in private practice at various Miami firms before becoming a federal prosecutor.

Lagoa described herself to the Senate Judiciary Committee as an originalist, reflecting the Trump administration’s focus on placing conservative judges on the federal circuit courts. There are now three federal appeals courts – the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Circuits – that have more Trump appointees on the bench than judges who were appointed by Democrats.

If Trump is able to replace a judge appointed by a Democrat on the First, Fourth or 10th Circuit, the balance between Democrats and Republicans on each of those courts would be even. Even the split on the reliably liberal Ninth Circuit is tightening, with 16 judges appointed by Democrats and 13 by Republicans – eight by Trump alone.

Trump’s success in flipping circuit courts has been significantly aided by the Republican blockade against Barack Obama’s judicial nominees at the end of his presidency and rules changes in the Senate – including the decision by Democrats in 2013 to do away with the 60-vote threshold for lower-court judges – that have quickened the process of judicial confirmations.

Kang specifically pointed to the decision of former Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to no longer require so-called blue slips from home state senators on circuit court nominations. Under the tradition of the blue slip, the senators who represent a nominee’s home state needed to sign off before a nomination could go forward in the Judiciary Committee.

Grassley made it his policy that nominees without blue slips from their home state senators could go forward so long as the White House consulted with senators on the nomination. Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who now chairs the committee, has continued the policy.

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