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In Lower Courts, Trump Could Reshape The Judiciary From The Ground Up

And much of our legal guidance comes from those lower courts.
Posted at 3:02 PM, Mar 24, 2017

The fight over Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court is overshadowing an area where President Trump might actually be able to make an even bigger change to our judicial system: the lower federal courts. 

The Constitution gives the president power to nominate not just Supreme Court justices but also judges on the court of appeals and district court judges. Each one of those judges has to be confirmed by the Senate, and each is a lifetime appointment. 

Obama only had 54 federal judicial vacancies when he took office. Today, Trump has a staggering 124 spots to fill. Many of these seats are open because, when Republicans retook the Senate in 2015, confirmation of Obama nominees essentially stopped.

And that gives President Trump a lot of power to remake the federal judicial system to his liking.

The Constitution doesn't lay out any formal qualifications or process for being nominated. When a seat opens, the president gets recommendations from all over, including Congress, other judges, the FBI and the Justice Department. But the final choice lies with the president. 

Though the Supreme Court gets most of our attention, less than 200 cases make it there every year — which means much of our legal guidance comes from these lower courts. And issues like gun control, abortion rights and voter ID laws will be in the hands of a large number of judges chosen by Trump.