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Report: Democrats explore expanding federal district courts to offset Trump's judicial legacy

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The move could generate bipartisian support

Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Democratic lawmakers are reportedly exploring the possibility of expanding the number of federal district court judgeships in order to roll back former President Donald Trump's judicial legacy.

What's the background?

Trump's greatest presidential legacy may be the influence he wielded over the federal judiciary. During his presidency, Trump was responsible for appointing 174 federal district court judges, 54 appellate court judges, and three Supreme Court justices.

Most of the judges are ideologically conservative, meaning Trump enacted generational change within the federal judiciary.

Now, with Democrats having control over the White House and Congress, Democratic lawmakers are exploring how to reverse Trump's judicial legacy in a way that does not draw as much attention as would packing the Supreme Court.

What are Democrats planning?

According to The Hill, Democrats are increasingly considering expanding the number of federal district court judgeships, which would allow Biden to have significant influence over the shaping of the federal judiciary over at least the next two years.

Currently, there are 52 district court vacancies and four circuit court vacancies. Overall, there are currently 678 district judgeships.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) publicly floated the idea recently, citing bloated case loads in western New York.

"I have in the city of Buffalo a huge — they don't have enough judges. There's this long line before you can get to court because they don't have enough. So we could expand those," Schumer said on MSNBC.

Interestingly, the proposal could garner bipartisan support, because there is precedent for expanding the district court system and because case loads nationwide would be alleviated by having more justices share in the work.

In fact, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said at least one Republican lawmaker has already told him he would support district court expansion.

"Interestingly enough, I had a Republican senator who approached me about expanding the number of federal judges in his state, so there seems to be some sentiment that there [are] backlogs in the dockets of federal judges," Durbin said, The Hill reported.

What would it take?

Expanding district court judgeships would require congressional approval, which means Republicans would have to support the expansion.

It remains unknown whether Republicans would actually do that, considering the political ramifications of allowing Biden to nominate even more federal judges. And with the Senate requiring a simple majority approval for judicial confirmations these days, expanding the federal district courts would undoubtedly benefit Biden and Democrats.

But the option also makes political sense for Democrats.

That's because only about one-third of Americans support expanding the Supreme Court. Such an effort would be widely viewed as overly partisan and likely backfire at the voting booths next election. Targeting the district courts, however, would certainly be less controversial.

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