News-Miner opinion: Presidents can affect the nation — its residents, its environment, its industries and so on — in myriad visible ways, but one of the ways in which a president can have great and long-lasting impact isn’t as obvious and, therefore, doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves.
That impact comes through a president’s appointments to the federal judiciary.
On that subject, President Donald Trump is off to a thunderous start.
Not two years into his term the president had been presented two vacancies on the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court. One of those, of course, was a vacancy that occurred during the second term of President Barack Obama but one which the Republican-controlled Senate declined to allow to be filled until after the 2016 election.
It’s highly likely that, if President Trump wins a second term in 2020 that he will have other Supreme Court vacancies to fill given the age of some of its current members.
The court already has a conservative lean, and adding more conservative justices — assuming the Senate remains in GOP control and is therefore receptive to his nominees — would cement a conservative view at the pinnacle of the judicial system for a generation or more.
What about the lower federal courts? President Trump is having an extraordinary impact there also.
As of May 1, more than halfway through the president’s term, the Senate had confirmed 37 Trump appointees to the 13 circuits of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
An analysis by the nonprofit Brookings Institution says no other president has had such a record of success at this point in a term. It notes, however, that most of those appointees, at least of those through the start of this year, were filling vacancies created by the departure of judges appointed by other Republican presidents.
But in some instances, Trump appointees have been installed in vacancies left by the departures of judges appointed by Democratic presidents.
Of note for Alaska regarding an ideological change is that the Senate has confirmed four Trump nominees to the 29-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the liberal San Francisco-based court whose jurisdiction includes Alaska. President Trump has two additional 9th Circuit nominees pending in the Senate, for a total of six so far.
That will make a profound change to the 9th Circuit and perhaps to the outcome of Alaska cases that end up in front of its judges.
The Brookings Institution analysis breaks it down this way. At the start of the Trump presidency, the 9th Circuit had seven judges appointed by Republican presidents, 18 by Democratic presidents, and four vacancies. When all current and announced vacancies are filled, that will change to 13 judges appointed by Republican presidents and 16 by Democratic presidents.
Why does this matter to Alaska? Federal encroachment on states rights, for one. The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives power to the states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Alaska needs federal judges and justices — from the lower court level all the way to the Supreme Court — that believe federal authority should be limited.
Last week, the Senate confirmed the 100th judicial nominee made by President Trump, a feat that includes two Supreme Court justices, 37 appellate court judges and 61 lower court judges. Much of that success is due to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who orchestrated an altering of Senate rules to speed up the confirmation process.
President Trump is a master at creating a swirling vortex whenever he pleases. He can suck attention from anywhere with a sudden policy tweet or a seemingly offhand comment at one of his well-attended rallies.
Yet in doing so he obscures the many practical successes his administration has made since he took office in January 2017.
And perhaps nowhere is that success more pronounced — and generally unrecognized by many people — than with his copious appointments to the federal judiciary.
It’s a legacy that — whether you like what he has done with the federal bench or not — will shape the nation for decades to come.