By Robert V. Wills
The Democrats breathed a big sigh of relief when they took over the House of Representatives in November. Whew! Now they could stop Trump in his tracks by controlling the Federal purse strings and blocking his legislative agenda.
Nice try. But no cigar. Trump isn’t trashing the Obama legacy and the liberal agenda through legislation. He’s doing it by two other strategies, by Executive Orders aimed at Federal agencies that control society and the environment, and by packing the Federal courts, which make or break laws that Congress is supposed to be passing, or passed years ago.
While the Democrats in the House create endless publicity by holding hearings and issuing subpoenas, Trump’s Executive Orders have quietly directed all of the important agencies that control the environment, consumer protection, the airwaves, education, voting rights, health, and commerce in a direction 180 degrees from what Obama established and what Blue America campaigns for.
The Federal courts are jammed with litigation filed by social, political, and environmental organizations like the ACLU, Common Cause, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Planned Parenthood. Injunctions and Court Orders have slowed some of the Trump onslaught, but not all of it, and the litigation will go on for years.
But Trump and his right wing advisers know that the buck stops in the Federal courts, not the House of Representatives, so with a Trump-aligned Senate and some ultraconservative lawyers at his side, he is quietly packing the Federal Courts with lifelong appointments of right wing ideologues who will shape our social and political landscape for decades, while members of Congress come and go like hucksters in endless campaigning.
Everyone knows that Trump has already had a powerful influence on the U.S. Supreme Court, with two right wing appointments to join Bush’s two (Alito and Roberts), and that the Court’s future temperament depends on the longevity of “Notorious Ginsberg.” But what the public doesn’t know is that while SCOTUS is the ultimate authority on Federal law, the real seat of Federal law power rests in the 13 Federal Courts of Appeal, where + or – 179 appellate judges decide something like 50,000 cases a year.
The Federal Courts of Appeal are essentially the real U.S. “Supreme” Federal Court because SCOTUS reviews only + or – 140 cases each year and takes on only cases where the Courts of Appeal had conflicting decisions, or the issue is critical.
In two years Trump has already appointed more than 20% of the + or – 179 Circuit Judges. I just read a summary of some of their decisions and the Trump judges have already demonstrated a sharp right lean in their written opinions.
If Trump remains in office two more years - - a big “if” with his mental state - - his effect on the Federal judiciary - - and the U.S. political and social temperament - - will last half a lifetime. In fact, in another two years I don’t think I will even recognize the America that won WWII and resettled a war-torn world under leaders like Eisenhower and Kennedy.