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Recent changes to judiciary system an understatement

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

By Tara Bailey


Did you know the Trump administration has appointed and confirmed more court judges than any of its predecessors?

On March 29, 2018, President Donald Trump stated about the vacancies. “You know when I got in, we had over 100 federal judges that weren’t appointed,” Trump said. “I don’t know why Obama left that. It was like a big beautiful present to all of us. Why the hell did he leave that? Maybe he got complacent.”

Contrary to Trump’s belief, he should thank Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Republican Senate for filibustering Obama’s nominees. President Obama nominated 400 candidates to be federal judges, although the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed some of his nominees; many of his nominations died on the floor.

With the help of the Republican-led Senate, Trump inherited 88 district and 17 court of appeals vacancies and confirmed 200 federal judges. Each of those 200 federal judges has life tenure.

The surge of relatively young judges with lifetime appointments could change the course of America for generations. The conservative judges will rule on high priority cases: overturning Roe vs. Wade, voting rights, second amendment, and climate change.

Did you know in Allegheny County, the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania, judges are not nominated. In a partisan election, the people choose the judiciaries. The citizens of the magisterial district vote for Magisterial District Judges in the area they serve.

The term of a District Judge is six years. To become a District Judge, individuals must possess the following qualifications. Individuals must be 21 years of age, a resident of Pennsylvania, a resident of his/her magisterial district for a one-year period before an election, and certified by the Administration Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Locally, the Honorable Carla M. Swearingen, magisterial judge in Robinson Township, was last elected in November 2017 and partisans voted for her to serve approximately 20 years on the bench.

The Honorable Bruce J. Boni, magisterial judge for the McKees Rocks area, graduated from Carnegie Mellon University then attended The University of Pittsburgh Law School. In 1999, Boni opened his general practice law firm. In 2018, voters elected Boni for Magisterial Judge over challenger Joe Palahunik.

Boni has served three years on the bench and he is up for re-election in 2023.

“This is the difference between partisan elections and judgeship appointments,” Boni said. “In partisan, judges are elected by the people and in Judgeship appointments, judges are nominated by the President and confirmed in the Senate. With partisan elections you have to win on your own.”

Did you know Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court? On September 18, 2020, she succumbed to complications of cancer. Her sudden death left a vacant seat on the Supreme Court that may or may not be filled before election day.

Did you know within four years of his first presidential term, Trump filled two Supreme Court vacancies and aims to fill another?

Neil Gorsuch replaced former justice Antonin Scalia on Feb. 1, 2017. Brett Kavanaugh replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy on July 10, 2018. Amy Coney Barrett was nominated by Trump on Sept. 29, 2020. Her nomination is embroiled in controversy.

Did you know on March 16, 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s Supreme Court seat. He had died 30 days prior.

Scalia’s vacancy happened during Obama’s last year in office. During that time, Sen. McConnell gave a speech on the Senate floor advocating that the incoming president should choose the next Supreme Court justice that year. The same situation is occurring during the 2020 presidential election.

Justice Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat is vacant during this election period. Her last request was “not to be replaced until a new president is installed.”

This is the same sentiment the Republican Party shared in 2016 when they prevented Garland’s nomination. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) echoed the same effect. "I want you to use my words against me. If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination." In recent weeks, Graham changed his stance on election-year vacancies.

Did you know a lack of diversity is noticeable among the newly seated class of federal judges? There is little representation of people of color according to the Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Federal Judicial Center. Eighty-five percent of his federal judges are white and majority male, while 15% are from different races. Compared to his predecessors, Trump is behind in appointing nonwhite federal judges.

Although members from the Democratic Party speculated that Trump is packing the federal courts with judges who favorably view him, this would help his defense in a criminal prosecution should voters not elect him for a second term in November.

On Sept. 9, 2020, Trump remarked on his judicial appointments. “By the end of my first term, we will have confirmed a record number of federal judges. Over 300 all of whom will faithfully uphold our constitution as written.”



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