You may recall that the extremely liberal 9th Circuit Court is one branch of the Federal court system that has been a pain in President Trump’s side since the first day of his Presidency.
But a break in the madness is on the way, due in part to the passing of one of the federal judges who sat on the court.
The death this week of 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt gives President Trump the opportunity to boost the number of Republican-appointed judges on the famously liberal-leaning court, with seven seats now open.
But legal experts say filling all of those vacancies could be a stretch because of partisan wrangling in the Senate.
Of the 22 active judges on the bench — the court is authorized to have 29 judgeships — 16 were nominated by Democratic presidents, and six were nominated by Republicans.
But with Reinhardt’s death, Trump will have the opportunity to fill seven vacancies to the San Francisco-based appeals court.
“It’s an incredible opportunity,” University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said. “There are 29 active judgeships on that court. [Trump] can fill 1/4 of them. That to me could — depending on who they are, how quickly they go, whether they are rejected — change the complexion of the court, and it could change substantially.”
Reinhardt, deemed a “liberal lion,” died unexpectedly of a heart attack while at the dermatologist’s office Thursday, the court said.
Appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, Reinhardt joined the court after Congress expanded the number of judges on the 9th Circuit by 10, a change many believe contributed substantially to the current ideological bent of the court.
Those new seats were filled by Carter, which has led those 9th Circuit judges to take senior status, a form of semiretirement, under Democratic presidents. When a judge takes senior status, he or she maintains a reduced caseload, but the president can nominate and the Senate can confirm a replacement.
Trump has named two nominees, Mark Bennett and Ryan Bounds, to fill two of the seven vacancies. The White House did not return a request for comment regarding future nominations to the court.
For Josh Blackman, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law, the shift in the 9th Circuit’s ideology may not be as stark once Trump moves to fill the vacancies.
The president, he said, can make the court “less bad.”
“At this point, it’s virtually impossible in the 9th Circuit to draw a panel with two Republican-appointed judges. It’s possible, but it’s tough,” Blackman said, referring to the panel of three judges who hear appeals court cases. “This might make it more possible to draw a panel [of two Republican appointed judges] every now and then.”