The Senate confirmed likely the last appellate nominee of President Donald Trump’s first term, bringing to 200 the total number of judicial confirmations since he took office.
The Republican-led chamber voted 52-48 on Wednesday to confirm Mississippi state judge Cory Wilson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit despite Democratic objections over his past writings critical of scrutiny around voter ID requirements.
Judicial confirmations are a cornerstone campaign theme for Trump and his Republican congressional allies who’ve touted their efforts to reshape the judiciary with conservatives.
Trump’s two Supreme Court picks, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, created a solid 5-4 conservative majority. His 53 appellate appointments, nearly a third of all seats on the circuit courts, is the largest proportion by any president in the past 40 years. The president also has installed 143 trial court judges and two international trade court judges.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also touted the milestone in floor remarks before Wednesday’s vote, calling it a “victory for the rule of law.”
“When we depart this chamber today, there will not be a single circuit court vacancy anywhere in the nation for the first time in at least 40 years,” McConnell said.
Trump has no more appeals court seats to fill, although Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and other Republicans have encouraged conservative senior judges to open new vacancies by retiring.
The swift confirmations of Wilson and Justin Walker to the D.C. Circuit, on June 18, came despite criticism from Democrats who opposed prioritizing judicial confirmations during the coronavirus pandemic. They also cited the nominees’ partisan records on issues like the Affordable Care Act and LGBTQ rights.
Wilson’s past writings on voting rights, in particular, was tied by Democrats to the ongoing national conversation about racial justice, prompted by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May.
“Confirming a nominee like Judge Wilson—who has regularly trivialized the fact that voting is not equally accessible to all—would underscore that our system of justice is broken,” a number of top Democrats said this week in calling for Republicans to pull his nomination from the Senate floor.
Conservatives hailed the confirmation as a major victory in Trump’s effort to reshape the federal judiciary and praised Wilson’s credentials.
“Like President Trump’s other lifetime-appointed judges, Judge Wilson demonstrated at his hearing that he understands his crucial role is to ensure we have law and order, including protecting Americans from government overreach and mob rule,” Mike Davis, president and founder of Article III Project, an advocacy group that supports Trump’s judicial nominees.
Wilson, a former state legislator, frequently criticized Democrats and liberal policies in both tweets and op-eds.
On voting rights, he cited efforts by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) in a 2012 op-ed for his work on the Judiciary Committee investigating voter suppression, calling hearings his subcommittee held “show hearings.”
Wilson also called Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) agenda as “claptrap,” used a “#CrookedHillary” hashtag in a post about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails, and referred to former President Barack Obama as a “king” when he said he would advance immigration policy on his own.
Wilson said at his confirmation hearing that his past writings and tweets were commentary on “live items for debate” when he was active in politics, and that personal views wouldn’t influence his work as a federal judge.
“As a matter of policy and politics, I fully recognize that my role as a judge is completely different than the role as a commentator or as a politician in the legislative branch of government,” Wilson said May 20.
At Wilson’s confirmation hearing, Graham challenged Democratic criticism of Wilson’s political statements.
“Who do you think we’re going to pick? We’re going to pick people that think like us that will be good judges. And when you get in charge, if you ever do, you’re going to pick people from your world,” Graham said.
Of Trump’s confirmed appellate appointees, eight are people of color, and of those, two are women, according to according to Bloomberg Law analysis of Federal Judicial Center data. None are Black.
Wilson heads to a seat on a court often regarded as one of the most conservative. Trump has already placed five other judges on the New-Orleans based court, but this last one proved difficult to fill.
Trump’s first nominee to this seat, Halil Suleyman Ozerden, didn’t make it out of committee due to concerns of two Republican senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, that he wasn’t conservative enough. Uncertainty around his nomination lasted for months.
—With assistance from Jasmine Han