President Donald Trump reminisced Wednesday about the 2016 campaign, when not every conservative trusted him to name Supreme Court justices and other federal judges.
“People knew me very well, but they didn’t know, ‘Is he liberal, conservative? Who are your judges?” Trump recalled in the White House East Room, celebrating his success in appointing judges.
“I did come up with an idea to pick 20 or 25 people [for a list of potential court nominees]. I would put great people on [the court]. I went with this list,” Trump said. “At first I said: ‘I will take this list and I will pick people that are like these people.’”
“And I got nowhere,” he recalled. “Nobody believed me. ‘What does that mean?’ I was being hammered. I said, ‘OK. It will only be these people.’ And that’s what we’ve had.”
Trump so far has appointed 157 judges who have won Senate confirmation, and that number is expected to be 161 by the end of the week.
At this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had named 103 judges successfully, according to The Heritage Foundation’s Judicial Appointment Tracker.
Trump said that in the next two months, he will have appointed a total of 182 confirmed judges.
Besides naming two Supreme Court justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Trump has had a significant impact on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
He has scored 43 appeals court confirmations across the 13 circuits, either twice or almost twice as many as any of the past five presidents garnered at this point in their presidencies.
The two presidents Bush come closest, with 28 appeals confirmations for the father and 29 for the son at this point in their presidencies.
Trump also currently has the fewest appeals court vacancies on his watch of any president since Ronald Reagan, according to Heritage’s judicial tracker.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump answered questions about judges from evangelical Christians, recalled Kelly Shackelford, president and general counsel of First Liberty Institute, a public interest legal group specializing in religious freedom.
“He said he would appoint originalists and constitutionalist judges, and I asked, ‘How do we know?’” Shackelford, who attended the White House event, told The Daily Signal.
Trump told him that he would rely on conservative groups. Shackelford said the president kept his promise, more so than past presidents.
“Nobody else has ever done it. Politics always came into play,” Shackelford said. “Evangelicals are the largest voting bloc, and every poll found that judges were the No. 1 issue for them. We care about judicial philosophy and judges that won’t act like politicians but go with what the law says.”
Trump’s achievement is also remarkable given the resistance in the Senate, said Thomas Jipping, deputy director of the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
Democrats forced cloture votes on 118 of the president’s judicial nominees, a delaying tactic to extend debate. For the previous five presidents combined, the Senate held only seven cloture votes.
“Trump is the first president elected since Democrats abolished the filibuster for nominations in 2013,” Jipping told The Daily Signal. “The cloture [vote] can no longer stop a judicial nominee. It’s done just to gum up the works.”
Trump’s judicial nominees have a similar rating from the American Bar Association as past presidents, he said.
During the White House event, Trump asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to come to the lectern, where he talked about how the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary were the top priority after Trump’s election.
McConnell brought up the Senate’s blocking of Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
“You had been helped enormously by a decision that I made, and these guys here backed me up, not to let President Obama fill that Scalia vacancy on the way out the door,” McConnell said, to applause.
“Boy, you didn’t blow it,” the majority leader said. “Neil Gorsuch is an all-star, isn’t he?”
“And the president alluded to that easy confirmation we had with Brett Kavanaugh,” McConnell added jokingly, in reference to the heated Supreme Court confirmation battle last year. “You made a great choice, Mr. President.”
“It’s not just that,” he said. “The circuit courts—where 99% of litigation stops—are full of bright young men and women who believe in the quaint notion that maybe the job of a judge is to follow the law.”
Trump said the judicial confirmations are reversing a decadeslong trend of liberal activists controlling the judiciary.
“In recent decades, our system has been under relentless attack by the left-wing activists who want to take the powers of the elected branches and give that power to unelected federal judges,” Trump said. “They want to impose by judicial decree what they fail to win at the ballot box.”