THIS IS HUGE–TRUMP FLIPS THE 9TH CIRCUIT WITH APPOINTED JUDGES
When President Trump ticks off his accomplishments since taking office, he frequently mentions his aggressive makeover of a key sector of the federal judiciary — the circuit courts of appeal, where he has appointed 51 judges to lifetime jobs in three years.
In few places has the effect been felt more powerfully than in the sprawling 9th Circuit, which covers California and eight other states. Because of Trump’s success in filling vacancies, the San Francisco-based circuit, long dominated by Democratic appointees, has suddenly shifted to the right, with an even more pronounced tilt expected in the years ahead.
Trump has now named 10 judges to the 9th Circuit — more than one-third of its active judges — compared with seven appointed by President Obama over eight years.
“Trump has effectively flipped the circuit,” said 9th Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., an appointee of President George W. Bush.
To assess the early impact of these appointments, The Times interviewed several judges on the 9th Circuit. Some either declined to discuss their colleagues or inner deliberations or refused to be quoted by name, saying they were not authorized to speak about what goes on behind the scenes.
To be sure, some of the new appointees to the 9th Circuit have quickly won the respect of their colleagues. But the rapid influx of so many judges — most without judicial experience — has put strains upon the court and stirred criticism among judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents.
“Ten new people at once sends a shock wave through the system,” a 9th Circuit judge said.
Among those who have caused the most consternation is Judge Daniel P. Collins, a former federal prosecutor and partner of a prestigious law firm.
Some judges said that in the early months of his tenure, Collins has appeared oblivious to court tradition. He has sent memos at all times of the night in violation of a court rule and objected to other judges’ rulings in language that some colleagues found combative, they said.
Collins also moved quickly to challenge rulings by his new colleagues, calling for review of five decisions by three-judge panels, and some of the calls came before Collins even had been assigned to his first panel, judges said.
Active judges vote on the calls behind the scenes, and the public becomes aware of a failed effort only when dissents are later filed by the judges who favored reconsideration. Judges said it was unprecedented for a new jurist to try to overturn so many decisions in such a short period of time. The court has so far rejected most of Collins’ calls.
“Collins has definitely bulldozed his way around here already in a short time,” one 9th Circuit judge said. “Either he doesn’t care or doesn’t realize that he has offended half the court already.”
Collins did not respond to a request for an interview.
Democratic appointees still make up the majority of active judges — 16 to 13. But the court also has judges on “senior status” who continue to sit on panels that decide cases. Senior status rank gives judges more flexibility but allows them to continue to work, even full time.
Of the senior judges who will be deciding cases on “merits” panels — reading briefs and issuing rulings — 10 are Republicans and only three are Democratic appointees, Smith said.
“You will see a sea change in the 9th Circuit on day-to-day decisions,” Smith predicted.
The biggest change will come in controversial cases that test the constitutionality of laws and the legal ability of presidents to establish contentious new rules. The 9th Circuit is weighing challenges to Trump on a wide array of issues, from immigration to reproductive rights, and the rightward tilt is likely to make it easier for the president to prevail.
Only two of the 9th Circuit appointees have prior judicial experience — Bridget S. Bade and Danielle Hunsaker. They also are the only women among the court’s new judges. Three are Asian Americans — one an openly gay man who has two children with his husband. The other five are white men. Several went to the nation’s top universities.
The American Bar Assn. rated six of the 10, including Collins, “well qualified,” the group’s highest rating for circuit judge candidates. Three received the lower “qualified” rating, and one, Lawrence VanDyke, was found to be “not qualified.”
Though conservative, the Trump appointees to the 9th Circuit are not monolithic. Two Trump appointees — Bade, a former federal court magistrate, and Mark J. Bennett, a former attorney general of Hawaii — are regarded by their colleagues as experienced and collegial.
Trump appointee Eric D. Miller also has drawn positive reviews from both Democratic and Republican appointees. Before his appointment, Miller headed up the appellate division of a major law firm.
“I think he will be a good judge,” a 9th Circuit veteran said.
(Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times. Article by Maura Dolin.)
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