TIME

TRUMP’S DEEP BENCH

By confirming judges in record numbers, the President is changing America for a generation

A FEW DAYS AFTER DONALD TRUMP WAS ELECTED President in November 2016, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell placed a call to incoming White House counsel Don McGahn. McConnell knew Trump had a chance to change the ideological makeup of the federal court system in a way not seen since the Reagan era, but only if McConnell and McGahn could get him to tighten up a disorderly political operation, and fast. “I said, Don, we’ve got an opportunity here to have a huge long-term impact on the country,” McConnell recalls, sitting in a cushioned chair in his Capitol office one day last month. He made McGahn a promise to move qualified judges through the Senate confirmation process as quickly as the White House could send them.

The conversation launched what may prove to be the most important legacy of the Trump presidency. Amid the dramatic infighting, global feuds and impulsive tweets that marked the President’s first year, Trump, McConnell and a group of ambitious conservative lawyers set in motion an enormous effort to reshape the federal judiciary. Trump’s team helped get a record-breaking 12 appeals-court judges confirmed during his first year, four times as many as President Obama did in the same time frame. Trump has nominated roughly 80 federal judges, 24 of whom have already been confirmed by the Republican-led Senate. And he’s just getting started: Trump still has 139 open seats on the bench to fill, a number that has only grown since he became President. “We’re filling up the courts with really talented people who understand and read the Constitution for what it says,” Trump tells TIME. “It’s already having a tremendous impact. These appointments are going to be one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, we do.”

The judges Trump picked are on the whole smart, experienced and conservative. The American Bar Association evaluated 60 of them and rated 56 as qualified or well-qualified. They are mostly white and male, and several have spurred controversy with their comments about hot political and social debates. On the bench, their

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from TIME

TIME2 min read
Conversation
WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT ... THE LEFT BEHIND ECONOMY Alana Semuels and Malcolm Burnley’s Sept. 2/Sept. 9 cover story on life as a tipped worker on minimum wage inspired readers with experience waiting tables to dish on the realities of the job. Walter V.
TIME6 min read
Michael B. Jordan Is More Than A Hero
THE STOREFRONT ENTRANCE OF THE UNDERGROUND Museum, on a busy street in central Los Angeles, is easy to miss. Inside, it feels like somebody’s stylish home: there are shelves lined with books, framed art and baskets of records. The museum was launched
TIME3 min read
The Resilience Of Snowflakes
Every September, as the first day of school approaches, I spend a lot of time thinking about darkness. Perhaps other teachers would say the same, jokingly. But I teach a high school course on trauma literature. So the question of darkness—of how much