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 McConnell GOP leaning toward Arizona sex crimes prosecutor to question Kavanaugh accuser: report GOP confidence grows on Kavanaugh Senate panel schedules Friday morning vote for Kavanaugh 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. 
 
Confirming either would give President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: Dems playing destructive 'con game' with Kavanaugh Several Yale Law classmates who backed Kavanaugh call for misconduct investigation Freedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign MORE his 23rd appeals court judge — a record for the number of circuit nominees confirmed during a president's first two years in office. 
 
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. 
 
ADVERTISEMENT
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 FlakeGOP confidence grows on Kavanaugh Senate panel schedules Friday morning vote for Kavanaugh Senate eyes Kavanaugh floor vote next week 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 McCainUpcoming Kavanaugh hearing: Truth or consequences How the Trump tax law passed: Dealing with a health care hangover Kavanaugh’s fate rests with Sen. Collins 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 GrassleyTrump: Dems playing destructive 'con game' with Kavanaugh Kavanaugh accuser Ramirez's attorney says Republicans were no-shows on scheduled call Grassley taps Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to question Kavanaugh, Ford 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.