WASHINGTON – One of President Donald Trump's biggest achievements since entering the White House – making the federal courts more conservative – crossed a major threshold Tuesday.
For the first time, he turned a federal appeals court previously dominated by Democratic presidents' nominees into one with a majority of Republican presidents' choices.
Senate confirmation of Paul Matey to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, with jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, gave Trump and his GOP predecessors in the White House a 7-6 majority there. The Senate vote was 54-45, largely along party lines.
Matey, 48, a former top counsel to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, became Trump's 35th appeals court nominee to reach the bench with seven more pending, continuing a record pace. The Senate also has confirmed 53 of Trump's picks for federal district courts, with another 54 nominees pending.
The president's goal of remaking the federal judiciary began in January 2017 with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch's confirmation and that of Brett Kavanaugh last October have made the nation's highest court more conservative.
The Senate also was poised to move further ahead Tuesday with the controversial nomination of Neomi Rao to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the nation's second-most powerful tribunal. A final vote could occur later this week.
Rao, a potential future Supreme Court nominee, has drawn criticism for her actions as Trump's "regulatory czar," her lack of trial experience and, in particular, college-era writings that appeared to blame women along with men for date rape.
Trump's 90 confirmed judges also have drawn criticism from Democrats and liberal interest groups because they are overwhelmingly white (92%) and male (76%).
At the critical appeals court level, where more than 50,000 cases are heard annually, Trump has replaced 23 judges named by Republican presidents and 12 named by Democrats.
Dan Goldberg, legal director at the liberal Alliance for Justice, noted that many of the appeals court judges Trump has had confirmed filled vacancies that Senate Republicans refused to fill near the end of the Obama administration. In some cases, the Trump judges were opposed by home-state Democratic senators.
“They are confirming more judges per year than any other president in history," said Kristine Lucius, executive vice president at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, citing Senate Republicans' refusal to consider home-state opposition.
In addition to the Third Circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, with jurisdiction over Florida, Georgia and Alabama, offers conservatives hope. It has gone from having a solid majority of judges named by Democrats to a 6-6 tie.
Six other appeals courts have a majority of Democratic presidents' nominees; four have a majority of Republican presidents' nominees.
“The Third Circuit Is only the first of several circuit courts of appeal that are likely to flip from majority Democrat-appointed to majority Republican-appointed during Trump’s presidency," said Elliot Mincberg, senior fellow at People for the American Way, a liberal group that has opposed most of his nominees.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump's conservative judges begin takeover of federal appeals courts