Trump gets chance to remake the courts

Trump gets chance to remake the courts
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President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers MORE has a chance to stack the courts with conservative judges, thrilling Republicans who suddenly have the opportunity to remake the judicial system.

Conservatives watched with dismay as Congress confirmed 327 of President Obama’s judicial nominees, fearing it would further entrench liberal control of the courts.

Now the tables have turned.

Trump could come into office with around 117 judicial vacancies to fill, and unlike Obama in his first term, will need only 51 votes in the Senate to confirm his nominees.

Democrats eliminated filibusters for most federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments in 2013. Now only a simple majority, rather than 60 votes, is required to advance a nominee.

It was a power play that helped Democrats confirm Obama’s court picks when they held the majority. Now Republicans stand to benefit from the rule change, as there will be little Senate Democrats can do in the minority to stop Trump’s nominees.

“What goes around comes around,” Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynMJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill this week.

“When you’re short-sighted and you think your majority is going to continue forever then you’re bound to be surprised when voters put you in the minority, so it counsels prudence and a longer view rather than short-term gratification.”

Republicans say Democrats only have Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSanders courts GOP voters with 'Medicare for All' plan Glamorization of the filibuster must end Schumer won't rule out killing filibuster MORE (D-Nev.) to thank for the situation they will soon find themselves in.

“Here’s the irony of it: He changed the rules and we don’t want to break the rules to change the rules unlike what he did,” said Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell pledges to be 'Grim Reaper' for progressive policies Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 MORE (R-N.C.).

“He put us in this position, and I’m sure he thought a lot about it before he did it.”

Of the 99 current judicial vacancies, 13 are openings on courts of appeals and 85 are on district courts, according to the Alliance for Justice, which is tracking the data.

Given the number of openings and some controversial Cabinet picks from Trump, some Democrats are wishing they still had the power to filibuster nominees.

On CNN’s “At This Hour” earlier this week, Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain MORE (D-Del.) said he regrets having changed the rules for nominees.

“The filibuster no longer acts as an emergency break on the nomination,” he said.

“I do regret that. I frankly think many of us will regret that in this Congress because it would have been a terrific speed bump, potentially an emergency break, to have in our system to slow down the confirmation of extreme nominees.”

Coons said Democrats would have to try to persuade Republicans to reject nominees that are too radical.

But not all Democrats say they made a mistake in weakening the filibuster.

“I think by and large Democracy requires that the majority vote prevail,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

“I have been against the filibuster since literally my first day here when I voted to abolish it.”

While concerned about the potential effects of conservative judges filling the judiciary, Blumenthal said it’s normal for a new administration to make its mark in such a way.

“Whether it’s a Democrat or Republican who occupies the White House, he has impacted hugely and enduringly the face and the voice of judiciary,” he said.

“It’s one of the things presidents do that is most lasting in its effect, but the filibuster will not prevent ultimately the president from appointing his nominees.”

While much of the attention has been on Trump’s ability to change the balance of the Supreme Court, it’s the lower courts where liberal groups say he’ll have the most immediate impact.