As the 2020 elections draw closer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has reportedly been reaching out to Republican-appointed federal judges and encouraging them to step aside so other, younger nominees can take their places in a timely fashion.
According to a Monday report in the New York Times:
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who has used his position as majority leader to build a judicial confirmation juggernaut for President Trump over the past three years, has been personally reaching out to judges to sound them out on their plans and assure them that they would have a worthy successor if they gave up their seats soon, according to multiple people with knowledge of his actions.
It was not known how many judges were contacted or which of them Mr. McConnell had spoken to directly. One of his Republican colleagues said others had also initiated outreach in an effort to heighten awareness among judges nominated by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush that making the change now would be advantageous.
The overt effort by Republicans to create vacancies reflects a realization that Mr. Trump could lose the presidency, or that Republicans could lose the Senate majority and deprive Mr. Trump of his partner on judicial confirmations even if he did gain a second term.
Mike Davis, who founded the conservative Article III Project, told the Times that while he believes President Trump would win re-election in November, "we have to hope for the best and plan for the worst." Davis' organization estimates that more than 90 federal judges are either currently eligible to take "senior status" — a form of judicial semi-retirement that allows new judges to take their seats — or will become eligible to do so this year.
A McConnell spokesman told the newspaper that it shouldn't surprise people that the majority leader would be interested in incumbent judges' career plans: "I'd point you back to his long-running mantra of 'leave no vacancy behind.'"
The nomination and confirmation of conservative federal judges has been one of the most successfully delivered campaign promises of the Trump presidency and one of the biggest focuses of the McConnell-led Senate.
As of early March, the Senate had confirmed a total of 193 Trump judicial appointments, according to Ballotpedia; that number includes the two Supreme Court justices the president has successfully appointed. Furthermore, the Washington Post pointed out in late December that, as a result the White House and Senate's joint efforts over the past few years, one quarter of America's federal district judges at that point were Trump appointees.