The Senate confirmed yet another of President Trump's picks to a federal circuit court seat Wednesday in a vote that tilts the balance of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to a GOP-appointed majority.
The 11th Circuit is now the third court to undergo such a transformation during Trump's presidency.
With an 80-15 vote, the Senate confirmed Barbara Lagoa to the seat formerly held by Judge Stanley Marcus, a Clinton appointee who sat on the appeals court that handles cases from Florida, Georgia and Alabama since 1997. Lagoa, the first Cuban-American woman confirmed to the 11th Circuit, tilts that court, which was previously split between six Republican appointees and six Democratic appointees, to a GOP-appointed majority. Trump's nominees alone now hold five of the 12 seats on the 11th Circuit.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell foreshadowed the development in a speech at the annual convention for the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian lawyers' organization, last week. He boasted about Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate flipping both the 3rd Circuit and the 2nd Circuit -- which he had just completed earlier that day with the confirmation of controversial nominee Steven Menashi to the 2nd Circuit -- while vowing to make judicial confirmations a priority.
"We have flipped the 2nd Circuit, the 3rd Circuit, and we will flip the 11th circuit," Josh Blackman, a Texas law professor who attended the convention, paraphrased McConnell as saying. "My motto: leave no vacancy behind."
McConnell, R-Ky., and Trump have made a point of filling federal courts, from the Supreme Court on down to district courts. This has been especially true since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 elections, shrinking the Senate's legislative agenda significantly. McConnell used a similar line in an appearance at a Federalist Society event in Kentucky last month alongside Don McGahn, the former White House counsel who guided the nominations of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch.
"The reason we've done all these circuit judges and will ultimately do all the district judges is because it's my top priority," he said. "You want to have an impact on the country, there are not many things that we do that cannot be undone by the next election.... But there's not much you can do about a young strict constructionist who's committed for a lifetime to the quaint notion that maybe the job of a judge is to follow the law."
He continued: "My motto for the rest of the year is 'leave no vacancy behind.'"
But liberals say the judges Trump and McConnell have put on the courts are a threat to civil rights.
"Trump’s reckless rollback of our civil rights will be felt for decades to come," said Lena Zwarensteyn, the fair courts campaign director with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of liberal interest groups. "The cumulative impact of the takeover of our courts, including the transformation of the 11th Circuit, will harm the rights of those in the 11th Circuit, as well as judicial independence overall. This week’s confirmations of Luck and Lagoa, are emblematic of this agenda. Trump’s recent nomination of Andrew Brasher to the 11th Circuit, whose well-documented record of attacking civil rights -- especially voting rights -- is even more so."
Lagoa's confirmation comes on the heels of 64-31 vote confirming Robert J. Luck to the 11th Circuit Tuesday. The 40-year-old Luck replaces Gerald Bard Tjoflat, an 89-year-old Gerald Ford appointee.
Lagoa was Trump's 48th nominee confirmed to a circuit court seat, which is about double the number of circuit judges then-President Barack Obama had gotten through by the same point in his presidency, according to a count by the Heritage Foundation. Lagoa is Trump's 164th confirmation to the federal bench overall.
Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, hailed Trump for his focus on confirming judges.
"This achievement -- along with the record number of federal appellate judges President Trump has appointed to date -- is a testament to the tangible impact the president has had in reshaping the federal judiciary with constitutionalist judges who are committed to the rule of law," she said. "For President Trump, this is a promise made and a promise kept to the American people.”