There have been three well-established indicators that Republicans in the Trump era are working to maximize the value of lifetime judicial appointments, far more than Democrats or their predecessors have done.
The first is the ideological vetting machine for federal judicial nominations set up originally by former White House counsel Don McGahn, relying heavily on advice from the conservative Federalist Society.
The second is an increasingly efficient operation for quickly confirming judges in the Senate, supervised by Mitch McConnell, who has made this chore a top priority even during the coronavirus pandemic.
The third is an emphasis on choosing younger judges with longer career lifespans in the federal judiciary, as exemplified by recent D.C. Circuit appointee Justin Walker, who is 37.
And now a fourth prong of the GOP strategy — as articulated by Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham — is appearing at that popular right-wing water cooler, Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, as reported by the Washington Post:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday urged federal judges who are in their mid-to-late 60s to step aside so that Republicans, increasingly nervous about holding the Senate majority in the November election as they eye President Trump’s poll numbers, can fill the vacancies now …
Depending on the number of years they have served on the bench, judges who are age 65 and older are eligible to take a reduced workload known as “senior status.”
According to a recent analysis by judicial expert Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution, a total of 66 court of appeals judges are now or will soon be eligible for senior status. Thirty-eight of those judges are Democratic appointees, while 28 are Republican appointees.
So the idea is to shuffle some old conservative goats off to retirement, making way for some young conservative kids who will be able to serve for two or three decades more. As Graham made clear, there’s no time for dilly-dallying about it since the November election threatens both Trump’s tenure and Graham’s own chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee:
Hewitt asked Graham whether he could assure judges who take senior status now that their successor “will indeed be confirmed before the election.”
“Well, if you wait, you know, November the 1st, no,” Graham said. “So do it now … I need some time.”
Graham also endorsed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s view that if a Supreme Court vacancy occurs before the November election, the Senate should fill it.
I don’t have any way of knowing exactly which old conservative goats Graham would like to put out to pasture. But there is a bit of a tradition in the judiciary of judges wanting to make sure the party that originally appointed them to the bench gets to pick their successor. That’s probably why Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy made way for his former clerk, Brett Kavanaugh, out of gratitude for the faith Ronald Reagan had in him, even though most Republicans at the time of his retirement thought of him as a baby-killing gay-loving liberal who wanted to submit America to satanic international law.
Graham’s basically reminding older Republican-appointed judges that there’s no time like the present for them to strap on the party harness and do one more solid for the GOP. If it produces a few more appointments and confirmations that are bankable even if Biden wins the White House and Democrats take away the Senate, it will have been worth the effort.