Published on Sep 18, 2017

As of September, 2017, the Senate approved the sixth of President Donald Trump’s nominees for federal judgeships placing him on a faster pace for approvals than either President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush. Confirmations so far include one Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, three judges for the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and two judges for the U.S. District Courts.

President Obama had no judges confirmed during his first six months in the White House and it wasn’t until November 2009 that three of his Federal judge nominees were approved by the Senate. President Bush had one appeals court judge and two district judges confirmed in August of his first term.

At the start of President Trump’s term, there were nearly 130 judicial vacancies in the lower federal courts. In May, the White House announced 10 judicial nominees with the promise of more to come. Through mid-July, Mr. Trump had nominated 18 people for district judgeship vacancies and 14 for courts of appeal and the Court of Federal Claims. During that same time frame in President Barack Obama’s first term, he had nominated only four district court and five appellate court judges.

Presently, there are now 45 federal judicial nominations awaiting Senate action, including 11 for the Courts of Appeals and 34 for the District Courts. There are presently no vacancies on the Supreme Court, 21 vacancies on the U.S. Courts of Appeals, 115 vacancies on the U.S. district courts, 2 vacancies on the U.S. Court of International Trade and 18 announced federal judicial vacancies that will occur before the end of President Trump’s first term.

The Federal Courts or Tribunals as Established in Articles I, III and IV of the U.S. Constitution include:

  • Article III courts currently are the U.S. Supreme Court, the Federal Courts of Appeal and District Courts including the Districts of D.C. and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Court of International Trade,
  • Article I courts or tribunals set up by Congress to review agency decisions; and
  • Article IV (the Territorial Clause) territorial courts established by Congress.

Only the judges of the Federal Courts under Article III are lifetime appointments.

The number of judicial offices has risen significantly from the time when President George Washington’s 38 appointments were sufficient to maintain the entire federal judiciary for eight years. As of 2016, there are 860 authorized Article III judgeships – nine on the Supreme Court, 189 on the Courts of Appeals, and 663 for the district courts, the remainder on the Circuit Court, the Court of International Trade and the Tribunals.

To date, President Ronald Reagan has appointed the largest number of federal judges (376), followed closely by President Bill Clinton with 373. Both Presidents Bush and Obama appointed 325 judges. William Henry Harrison, who died a few weeks after his inauguration, is the only President to have appointed no federal judges.

Because judicial appointments to the Federal Courts are life-time appointments, Presidents whose appointments that are confirmed by the Senate leave lasting legacies by selecting judges who follow their political philosophy. Do you have questions about the Federal Courts? Please contact Miller Law partner Kevin F. O’Shea at 248-841-2200.