In the weeks before Donald Trump took office, lawyers joining his administration gathered at a law firm near the Capitol, where Donald F. McGahn II, the soon-to-be White House counsel, filled a white board with a secret battle plan to fill the federal appeals courts with young and deeply conservative judges, says the New York Times. McGahn, instructed by Trump to maximize the opportunity to reshape the judiciary, mapped out potential nominees and a strategy: Start by filling vacancies on appeals courts with multiple openings and where Democratic senators up for re-election next year in states won by Trump — like Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania — could be pressured not to block his nominees. And to speed them through confirmation, avoid clogging the Senate with too many nominees for the district courts, where legal philosophy is less crucial.
Nearly a year later, that plan is coming to fruition. Trump has already appointed eight appellate judges, the most this early in a presidency since Richard Nixon, and on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to send a ninth appellate nominee — Trump’s deputy White House counsel, Gregory Katsas — to the floor. Republicans are systematically filling appellate seats they held open during President Barack Obama’s final two years in office with a particularly conservative group of judges with life tenure. Democrats — who in late 2013 abolished the ability of 41 lawmakers to block such nominees with a filibuster, then quickly lost control of the Senate — have scant power to stop them.