Obama legacy – a firewall against conservatives

Not even the late Justice Antonin Scalia could break through the 5-4 majority on social issues. AP Photo, Charles Rex Arbogast, File.

by Rob Howard
Political Columnist

After the first tumultuous months of the Trump administration I see one ray of light in the chaos that marks this presidency. That beacon is the federal judiciary, the third branch of our government. Despite the worst efforts of Republicans in the Senate, over eight years, President Barack Obama appointed 329 judges to what are called Article III positions.

Most of us don’t focus on federal judges unless one is handling a specific case that we have an interest in. We all got to learn a lot of judge’s names when the flood of marriage equality decisions started rising out of district courts, headed for Circuit Courts of Appeals and ultimately the Supreme Court.

Of the first decisions trying to put a hold on Trump’s despicable immigration Executive Order, all were by Obama appointed judges.

President Obama’s appointments will have a lasting impact of the judicial branch. He appointed 268 district judges, nearly 40 percent of the total; there were 55 appeals court appointments, almost 31 percent of the seats. And of course, he was able to appoint two liberal judges to the Supreme Court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

All of these judges serve for as long as they wish. The President cannot remove them. They can be impeached but that is a very rare happening; only 15 have ever been impeached and only eight of those were convicted by the Senate.

To impeach a judge, the House needs only a simple majority. But to convict and remove a judge, it takes a two-thirds majority – 67 votes.

The pinnacle of the federal Judicial Branch is, of course, the Supreme Court. Donald Trump has appointed Judge Neil Gorsuch to the seat left vacant by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, 2016. Conservatives are chortling over restoring a “conservative majority” to the court.

But I’d like to point out that the conservative majority is by no means solid. Justice Anthony Kennedy often votes with the four more liberal justices, particularly on social issues. All of the great LGBTQ Supreme Court victories have been 5-4. Even Scalia couldn’t break through that majority and all five justices who voted to overturn DOMA and then to extend marriage equality to the entire nation, are still on the court.

There are likely going to be a lot of cases ending up in federal court and wending their way through the system to the Supreme Court. Of course, I don’t like the conservative leaning decisions by the Supreme Court, but I love the social issue ones.

In addition, you really never can tell how a justice will vote on an individual case. I take solace in the fact that Chief Justice Earl Warren, the former Governor of California and a staunch conservation, ended up ably leading one of the most liberal Supreme Courts in our history. The Warren court gave us many of the civil rights victories that we still celebrate.

Obama’s appointments brought great diversity to the federal courts. 19 percent of his appointments went to African Americans, compared to just seven percent under President George W. Bush. 43 percent of Obama’s appointments to the bench were women.

The increased diversity will have a significant effect on the courts for a generation. It is one part of Barack Obama’s legacy that Donald Trump cannot overturn.

Let’s wish all the judges President Obama appointed a long and healthy life and decades of service to our country.

The Gayly – March 11, 2017 @ 1:20 p.m.