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Numerous Judicial Vacancies Give Trump a Chance to Reshape Federal Courts

  • VOA News

FILE - President-elect Donald Trump takes a question from a member of the media at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump can begin to significantly reshape the federal judiciary when he takes office due to a large number of vacancies in the federal courts.

There are currently 104 vacancies, including a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court that was vacated by the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia, according to the federal judiciary. There are also 38 judicial emergencies, courtrooms where there are not enough judges to hear cases that are increasing in number.

By contrast, there were 54 federal judicial vacancies when President Barack Obama entered the White House eight years ago.

The large number of vacancies can be attributed to two years of a divided government, when Republicans assumed control of the Senate in 2015 and the pace of the confirmation of Obama's judicial nominees slowed dramatically.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the Republican Senate confirmed 20 lifetime judicial appointments to district and appeals courts over the past two years, the lowest number by far since 1988.

Numerous openings throughout the federal circuit and district courts will give Trump an opportunity to quickly make a number of lifetime appointments. They will hear weighty matters such as abortion restrictions, immigration issues and gun control.

In addition to the vacancy on the Supreme Court, there are 13 on the federal appeals courts, 82 in U.S. district courts, and eight others in special jurisdiction courts such as the U.S. Court of International Trade.

Due to the advanced ages of several Supreme Court justices, Trump could also significantly alter the composition of the nation's highest court. Stephen Breyer is 78, Anthony Kennedy is 80 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83.

While Trump has been relatively mum about the numerous vacancies on the lower courts, the president-elect has said he intends nominate a conservative to replace the late Justice Scalia.

"The replacement of our beloved Justice Scalia will be a person of similar views, principles and judicial philosophies," Trump said in his speech at the Republican National Convention in July.

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