Senate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks
© Greg Nash
Senate Republicans are poised to break a record as soon as this week on the number of appeals court judges confirmed during a president's first two years. 
 
Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats The national emergency will haunt Republicans come election season Trump: McConnell should keep Senate in session until nominees are approved MORE (R-Ky.) has teed up two circuit court nominations — Andrew Oldham for the 5th Circuit and Ryan Bounds for the 9th Circuit — for Senate votes. 
 
 
GOP senators have worked frantically to confirm nominees to the key bench, letting the party shape the direction of the U.S. court system for decades. 
 
"I think of the things that we've been able to do with this Republican government the last year and a half, the single most long lasting, positive impact we'll be able to have on the country is the judiciary," McConnell told reporters in Kentucky late last week. 
 
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They broke a record last year for the number of circuit court picks confirmed during a president's first year and tied the two-year record earlier this month. President George H.W. Bush got 22 circuit court nominations through the Senate during his first two years.
 
By comparison, the Senate had confirmed 16 circuit court nominees for Obama by the end of his second year in office, with the final tranche of picks not being confirmed until December of 2010, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
President George W. Bush got 17 circuit judges confirmed by the end of 2002, his second year in office, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Clinton had 19 confirmed during his first two years in office, according to CRS. And Presidents Reagan and Carter got 19 and 12 nominees confirmed, respectively
 
Republicans haven't taken the same break-neck pace on lower-court district nominees, whose rulings can be overturned at the circuit level. A Washington Post analysis found that, when combined with votes on lower-level district judges, Trump was lagging behind other recent administration, except Obama, in total number of judges confirmed as of the end of May. 
 
But Republicans have homed in on circuit judge nominations because that court has the final word on a large swatch of cases that never make it to the Supreme Court. 
 
 
McConnell added that the court nominations were the "most significant thing" the Senate does.
 
"When I make a decision to take up a circuit judge that's because I think it's important," he added. 
 
The decision to move forward with Oldham and Bounds comes after GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (Ariz.) dropped his automatic opposition to circuit court nominees in return for the Senate taking a symbolic vote on Trump's tariffs. 
 
Both Oldham and Bounds cleared the Judiciary Committee on party-line votes, meaning McConnell likely needs Flake's vote to help them get confirmed. 
 
With their 51-seat majority effectively capped at 50 because of GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech Mark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid MORE's (Ariz.) absence, Republicans can confirm court nominees without help from Democrats if they remain united. 
 
Democrats have bristled over the pace of circuit court nominations, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyHigh stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech MORE's (Iowa) decision to move forward with nominees over the objection of home-state senators. 
 
The “blue-slip” rule — a precedent upheld by Senate tradition — has historically allowed a home-state senator to stop a lower-court nominee by refusing to return a sheet of paper, known as a blue slip, to the Judiciary Committee.
 
How strictly the precedent is upheld is decided by the Judiciary Committee chairman. Enforcement has fluctuated depending on who controls the panel.