Graham urges senior judges to step aside so Trump, GOP can replace them

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is publicly urging judges in their mid- to late 60s to consider stepping aside ahead of Election Day to help ensure that their seats could be filled by Republicans.  

Asked during an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt if he knew if any judges would take “senior status,” a semi-retirement status that opens up their seat, Graham said, “If you are, take it.”

“This is an historic opportunity. We’ve put over 200 federal judges on the bench. I think 1 in 5 federal judges are Trump appointees. … So if you’re a circuit judge in your mid-60s, late 60s, you can take senior status; now would be a good time to do that if you want to make sure the judiciary is right of center. This is a good time to do it,” Graham added. 

He also encouraged judges who want to make sure a successor can be confirmed by the November election to announce their plans to retire sooner rather than later, adding that he would “need some time” to get them through the committee. 

It’s the latest sign that Republicans are preparing for the possibility that they lose control of either the Senate or the White House in November. Though Senate Republicans entered the 2020 campaign cycle viewed as the favorites for keeping their majority, Democrats are feeling increasingly bullish about their chances of winning back the chamber. 

The New York Times reported in March that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had been encouraging some federal judges appointed by Republican presidents to retire this year in order to ensure that their seats will be filled by ideological allies. 

According to the Times, which cited multiple people familiar with McConnell’s efforts, the Senate leader has been talking with senior judges to gauge their plans for the future and telling them that the best time to retire is while the GOP is in control of the White House and Senate.

Republicans have homed in on trying to remake the federal judiciary following Trump ascending to the White House in 2017, including setting a record for the pace of confirming appeals court judges.

The Senate has confirmed nearly 200 judicial nominations since Trump took office, including two Supreme Court picks and 51 appeals judges.

The total is the second fastest overall confirmation pace of any U.S. president, according to the Article III Project, a conservative group that works to confirm Trump’s judicial nominees.

McConnell has been frank about judicial nominees, particularly influential circuit court picks, being his top priority as he makes decisions on floor time. He views the nominees, many of whom are young, as the party’s best chance at shaping the long-term direction of the country. 

“Hugh, you and I have discussed this before. My motto for the year is leave no vacancy behind. That hasn’t changed,” McConnell told Hewitt last month. 

Judicial nominations have become increasingly partisan in the Senate in recent years. Democrats went “nuclear” to nix the 60-vote filibuster for most judicial picks and all executive nominations.

Republicans in 2017 got rid of the same hurdle for Supreme Court picks. In 2019, they deployed the nuclear option for a second time to cut down on the amount of time it takes to confirm most executive nominees and district court nominations.

Democrats have pledged to make the courts an issue ahead of the November election, including releasing a 54-page report on Wednesday warning that Republicans have “captured” the federal judiciary. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), during a conference call with reporters, said that McConnell and Trump “have dedicated every ounce of their energy … to packing the courts.” 

Tags Article III Project Charles Schumer Election Day Hugh Hewitt Judicial nominations Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell The New York Times

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