When President Donald J. Trump walked into his Oval Office on Jan. 20, 2017, he inherited 108 federal judicial vacancies. A key accomplishment during his first four years as President has been the filling of America’s courts with many conservative Constitutional jurists.
As of Dec. 1, 2020, there were 53 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 6%.
Three of those vacancies were on the U.S. Courts of Appeals, 49 were on U.S. District Courts, and one was on the U.S. Court of International Trade.
Whether Trump reclaims a presidency for a second term remains to be seen, but the number of federal judicial vacancies available on Inauguration Day 2021 will be dictated by the pace of confirmations in the U.S. Senate and the number of new vacancies.
There are currently four Article III nominees awaiting a Senate confirmation vote, four waiting for a Senate committee vote, and 20 waiting for a committee hearing as of Dec. 8.
Two judges are expected to assume senior status on Jan. 22 and 23. The best estimate is there will be somewhere between 23 and 53 judicial vacancies.
The midpoint of this range would be 38. Here are the historical vacancies of presidencies since Ronald Reagan:
George H.W. Bush 37
George W. Bush 84
One of President Trump’s most significant picks was in April 2020 when he selected U.S. District Judge Justin Walker for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Walker, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, at 39, was youngest nominee for the D.C. Circuit in decades.
McConnell, from Kentucky, was particularly pleased as Walker is also from the Blue Grass state. Early on, Trump learned the key to Senate confirmation was to leverage good will with McConnell. Often, Trump would go to McConnell seeking input on available conservative jurists.
A week after Walker was confirmed in June, a final vacancy on the Circuit Courts, Trump’s 53rd confirmation, was filled when the Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Cory Wilson, 49, for the 5th Circuit.
All Senate Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, voted against him because of his stated opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
“When we depart this chamber today, there will not be a single Circuit Court vacancy anywhere in the nation for the first time in at least 40 years,” McConnell said after Wilson’s confirmation. “Our work with the administration to renew our federal courts is not a partisan or political victory. It’s a victory for the rule of law and for the Constitution itself.”