The government doesn’t always move quite as fast as we’d like. In recent years, members of both major political parties have complained about historic congressional inaction. While it can be frustrating when our friends are in power, the more deliberative aspects of our system of government are an important check that preserves our rights when circumstances are less advantageous.
However, an important avenue where President Donald Trump and our friends in the Senate have been able to move swiftly to push a pro-gun-rights agenda is by exercising the president’s constitutional authority to appoint federal judges. Once confirmed, federal judges serve for life “during good Behaviour.”
Exit polls indicated that Trump’s emphasis on judicial appointments helped him win in 2016.
On May 18, 2016, candidate Trump signaled to American voters that he understood the importance of the federal judiciary, when he released a list of potential nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court. Exit polls from 2016 indicated that Trump’s emphasis on sound judicial appointments was a crucial factor in his victory. An NBC News poll showed that 27 percent of Trump voters citedSupreme Court appointments as their most important factor in voting, while only 19 percent of Clinton voters answered likewise. Moreover, 22 percent of all voters listed Supreme Court appointments as their most important factor in voting, up from 7 percent in 2008.
When Trump took office, he inherited 114 federal court vacancies from Barack Obama. In contrast, there were only 54 vacancies when Obama was inaugurated. Through November, nine of Trump’s U.S. Courts of Appeals nominees had been confirmed. Three more were scheduled for a December vote as this went to press. Obama notched only three in his first year in office. In early November, before Trump secured the ninth confirmation, The New York Times lamented that the first eight were “the most this early in a presidency since Richard M. Nixon.”
Even with his early victories, as of mid-December, the number of vacancies had swelled to 144. This number included 119 positions on the U.S. District Courts and 17 on the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Eager to fill these seats, as of press time he had nominated 44 individuals to serve; 34 to the district courts and seven to the appellate bench.
Trump has stated that he plans to make the most of his historic opportunity. During an Oct. 17 news conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the president explained, “Many [nominees] are in the pipeline,” adding, “we will set records in terms of the number of judges.”
Moreover, Trump has shown that he is dedicated to nominating individuals with a proper understanding of our Second Amendment. This began with his nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who, less than three months after taking the bench, signed a blistering dissent of the court’s decision not to take up a challenge to California’s “may-issue” carry regime. Trump has shown similar care in his appointments to the lower federal courts.
It is extremely important that we see a pro-Second Amendment shift in the federal judiciary. Following the landmark District of Columbia v. Heller and Supreme Court decisions, the lower federal courts have played a significant role in interpreting the scope of the Second Amendment. Until the Supreme Court abandons its current reluctance to take up additional Second Amendment cases, appellate court rulings on issues such as the right to carry and bans on commonly owned semi-automatic firearms will continue to be the law in their various circuits.
Beyond strictly Second Amendment issues, federal judges are also asked to rule on the administrative state’s interpretation and enforcement of federal statutes. Judges with a comprehensive understanding of our rights will be more apt to remedy executive branch overreaches of the kind perpetrated by Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder.
At any given moment, the NRA is involved in numerous federal court cases involving a broad set of issues that affect gun owners, from defending the right to carry, to protecting gun owners’ due process rights and privacy, to fighting illegitimate restrictions on the use of traditional ammunition. It’s impossible to know all of the federal litigation tomorrow will bring, but by prioritizing filling federal court vacancies, Trump and our friends in the Senate are helping to put gun rights supporters in a position to succeed for decades to come.