The Atlantic Politics Daily: Judge Report

The Supreme Court gets a lot of attention—rightfully so. But it’s always worth looking at the president’s other judicial appointments. Plus: The Bennet baffler.

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Today in Politics

Supreme Court Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh watching President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union. (Doug Mills / The New York Times via AP)

Ordering the Court

President Donald Trump’s two picks (so far) for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, have spurred combative confirmation fights and intense media attention. But while the high court gets the final legal word, it sits atop a federal judiciary that comprises many powerful courts.

Trump’s early-morning tweets consume cable-news cycles; but that he’s been successfully filling the federal judiciary with hand-picked judges, in his not-yet three years in the White House, does not.

He’s already appointed one-fourth of all federal circuit court judges and one-seventh of all district court judges. To compare, Trump has already gotten 43 circuit court judges confirmed, while Obama got 55 over eight full years as president. Still, the question of federal judges has been relatively absent on the 2020 Democratic campaign trail (in last week’s three-hour debate: many mentions of President Trump; no talk of appointments).

Who are these Trump-appointed judges? Something like 70 percent of them are white men. And many of them are legal descendants of Clarence Thomas, the notoriously silent Supreme Court justice: Roughly one-fifth of his former clerks are either in the Trump administration or have been nominated by Trump to the federal bench.

Federal judges play key roles in hashing out consequential cases hanging in limbo. To name just a few our writers have touched on recently:

Another ongoing lawsuit from House Democrats looks at whether Trump is legally obligated to release his tax returns.

Just last week, a U.S. federal appeals court revived a lawsuit accusing the president of profiting off the presidency through his business empire of hotels and restaurants.

And last week, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to proceed with its “safe third country” plan—pending legal challenges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


What Else We’re Following

Michael Bennet is still running for president. (Samatha Sais / Reuters)

The Michael Bennet Baffler. What does it mean when the senior senator from Colorado, serving in Congress since 2009, can’t crack 1 percent in polling or stand out in the Democratic primary? George Packer reflects on the senator’s bid, and how in a different era, Bennet’s future might’ve been brighter.

Saudi Arabia oil refineries; accusations against Iran—what’s going on? Here are seven questions to settle, David Frum writes, before the U.S. jumps into retaliatory measures. The first: Are we sure Iran was responsible?

All presidents are technically, by definition, “presidential.” But President Trump has, well, stretched the term. Historian David Greenberg looks at the evolution of presidential-iness over time. Was Thomas Jefferson presidential? Was Richard Nixon?



Monday, Sept. 16: The president holds a Keep America Great rally in New Mexico, now a more solidly blue state. Also: Catch former press secretary Sean Spicer in his debut on Dancing With the Stars, if that’s your jam.

Tuesday, Sept. 17: Israelis head to the polls for the second time in less than six months after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has maintained a tight relationship with President Trump, failed to secure a parliamentary majority in April.

Wednesday, Sept. 18: Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg testifies to the House Foreign Affairs and Climate Crisis committees about the ongoing threat of climate change.

Thursday, Sept. 19: For the first time in more than two decades, the House holds a hearing on D.C. statehood. (Energy behind making the U.S. capital the 51st state has come and gone and come around again over the years.)

Friday, Sept. 20: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits the White House.


Our Reporters Are Also Reading

Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not. (Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, The New York Times) (Paywall)

The Fight for the Latino Vote in Florida (Jonathan Blitzer, New Yorker) (Paywall)

Donald Trump Keeps Telling World Leaders The Same Bizarre Story About Kim Jong Un (Alberto Nardelli, BuzzFeed News)

How California’s ‘Red-flag’ Law Thwarted Gun Threats at Sunnyvale Ford, Netflix, and Palo Alto City Hall (John Woofolk, The Mercury News)

About us: The Atlantic’s politics newsletter is a daily effort from our politics desk. It’s written by our associate politics editor, Saahil Desai, and our politics fellow, Christian Paz. It was edited by Shan Wang.

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