By Sudhin Thanawala

The Associated Press

Trump begins shifting courts rightward

Although he’s been thwarted so far on his legislative agenda before Congress, most notably on health care, President Donald Trump has a big opportunity to reshape another branch of government outside his control: the federal judiciary. He has already moved swiftly to fill an unusual, inherited vacancy on the Supreme Court, and now his aides are working their way through a large number of openings on the lower federal courts. Some of his first picks are up for a Senate committee vote this month.

After gaining control of the Senate in 2015, Republicans made it their mission to slow-walk Barack Obama’s nominations for the lower courts. This effort contributed to the relatively large backlog of 107 vacancies on trial and intermediate-appellate courts that Trump inherited. That’s more than what awaited four of Trump’s five immediate predecessors, according to the public affairs website Ballotpedia. Only President Bill Clinton had more initial vacancies, with 111. By contrast, Obama found only 54 lower-court vacancies when he took office, while President George W. Bush had 84. Trump’s starting batch of 107 represents 12 percent of all 890 federal judicial positions.

As a candidate, Trump relied on suggestions from two establishment conservative groups, the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, to assemble a list of 21 potential high court picks. Now-Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the high court, was on their list. Now Trump is pulling from the same compilation for his lower-court choices.

One example is Allison Eid, whom Trump has nominated for the vacancy created by Gorsuch’s departure from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver. A member of the Colorado Supreme Court, Eid previously served as the state’s solicitor general and as a law clerk to the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing elder, Justice Clarence Thomas.

— Bloomberg News

The nation’s largest federal court circuit has clashed repeatedly with President Donald Trump over the past six months, and the agenda for its annual meeting is not shying away from topics that have stoked the president’s ire.

Immigration, fake news and meddling in the U.S. election are among the subjects to be discussed or touched on at the four-day conference of the 9th Circuit courts in San Francisco starting Monday.

Judges in the circuit have blocked both of Trump’s bans on travelers from a group of mostly Muslim countries and halted his attempt to strip funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

Trump has fired back, referring to a judge who blocked his first travel ban as a “so-called judge” and calling the ruling that upheld the decision disgraceful. Republicans have accused the 9th Circuit appeals court of a liberal slant and renewed efforts to break it up — a move Trump supports.

The 9th Circuit’s spokesman, David Madden, acknowledged that someone could see a connection between the conference agenda and the administration, but he said there was no intention to link the two.

At least some of the topics were timely even before the election, and they all reflect issues that could come before judges in the circuit, which includes the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and district and bankruptcy courts in California and eight other western states, Madden said.

“We live in interesting times and the court cannot choose which cases are brought before it,” he said.

A panel Monday will discuss cases that set aside the convictions of men who resisted an executive order that led to the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The panelists include 9th Circuit appeals court Judge Mary Schroeder and retired U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, each of whom ruled in a case challenging such a conviction.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s order allowing the U.S. government to hold roughly 110,000 Japanese-Americans in camps on the grounds of national security turned 75 this year. It has drawn comparisons to Trump’s travel ban, which detractors say discriminates against Muslims.

Another panel at the conference will discuss programs designed to keep people out of federal prison. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has directed federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against the vast majority of suspects, which will likely send more people to prison and for much longer terms.

Also Monday, the newest Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, will speak to new U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the conference. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy — the 9th Circuit’s liaison on the U.S. Supreme Court — was scheduled to give the talk but canceled after his wife fractured her hip.

On Tuesday, a panel will discuss voter fraud, voter suppression and “foreign interference in U.S. elections.” Another panel will tackle fake news.

“Maybe the appearance is that there’s some kind of resistance coming from the court,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond School of Law who follows the 9th Circuit. “On the other hand, some of these issues are very topical and timely and in the district and appellate courts of the 9th Circuit.”

The conference will also feature awards, tributes and panels about more innocuous subjects.

In addition to ruling against Trump’s executive orders, 9th Circuit judges have taken more direct swipes at the president.

Ninth Circuit appeals court Judge Stephen Reinhardt in a May opinion said a Trump administration order to deport a man was “inhumane.”

“President Trump has claimed that his immigration policies would target the ‘bad hombres,’” Reinhardt said. “The government’s decision to remove Magana Ortiz shows that even the ‘good hombres’ are not safe.”

Ninth Circuit appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski joined four fellow conservative judges in an opinion in March that did not mention Trump by name, but said “personal attacks” on judges who blocked the administration’s first travel ban were “out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse.”

Kozinski said Thursday he saw nothing unusual or political about the program for the court circuit’s meeting.

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