One of the major reasons that it was important that Barack Obama win a second term was because there is a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court that could easily have moved to 6-3 or even 7-2, with catastrophic consequences on a whole host of issues, prominently including women’s rights. But the Supreme Court only hears a small minority of federal cases. Most issues are decided at the level of the U.S. Courts of Appeal. And the balance of power on those courts is extremely consequential. Here’s a look at the present state of play on the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeal. I provide you with the number of judges on each panel who were appointed by a Republican (GOP) president and a Democratic (Dem) president, and also tell you how many vacancies there are on each panel. Take a close look.
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit– 5 GOP, 5 Dem, 2 vacancies.
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit– 3 GOP, 2 Dem, 1 vacancy.
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit– 5 GOP, 8 Dems, 0 vacancies.
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit– 6 GOP, 7 Dem, 1 vacancy.
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit– 5 GOP, 9 Dem, 1 Clinton/Bush appointee, 0 vacancies.
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit– 10 GOP, 5 Dem, 2 vacancies.
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit– 10 GOP, 6 Dem, 0 vacancies.
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit– 7 GOP, 3 Dem, 1 vacancy.
United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit– 9 GOP, 2 Dem, 0 vacancies, 0 Obama appointees.
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit– 9 GOP, 19 Dem, 1 vacancy (vacant since 2004).
United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit– 6 GOP, 4 Dem, 2 vacancies.
United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit– 4 GOP, 6 Dem, 2 vacancies.
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit– 5 GOP, 3 Dem, 3 vacancies, 0 Obama appointees.
The Federal Circuit Court hears cases related to trade and patents, as well as cases pertaining to veterans’ issues. Its partisan slant was decided by the election last week.
The First Circuit, which covers Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, will see its Republican slant wiped out.
The Democratic slant of the Third Circuit, which covers Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, was protected.
The Tenth Circuit, which covers Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, could become balanced.
The Democratic slant of the 11th District, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida, was protected.
Most importantly, the hard Republican lean of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals will be reversed instead of being dramatically bolstered.
We will also see some incremental progress on the 5th and 7th Circuits.
When all is said and done, the GOP will dominate only the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Circuits. You can do your own math to determine how dramatically different this is from what would have been if Mitt Romney had won the election.
Progressives tend to ignore this element of American political life because we are not trying to use the courts to change our society. We did that in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Since then, packing the courts has been a conservative project. And we stopped them just short of their goal of a conservative majority for overturning Roe v. Wade and total domination of the Federal Courts of Appeal.