This week, while attention was focused on the Neil Gorsuch confirmation hearings, President Trump announced his first pick for a lower court. On Tuesday, the president announced his intention to nominate the Honorable Amul Thapar, a federal district court judge in Kentucky, to an open seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Judge Thapar is a former U.S. attorney and was the first person of South Asian descent confirmed to an Article III court.
This pick was no surprise to court watchers, as Thapar was interviewed for the Supreme Court vacancy and enjoys the strong support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The pick nonetheless comes more quickly than some expected. President George W. Bush, who made judicial nominations a priority at the beginning of his first term, did not make any appellate nominations until May 2001, when he announced 11 at once, and his administration did not have a Supreme Court nomination to deal with. (On the other hand, the Bush administration’s transition was contracted by the 2000 election litigation.)
Thapar is the first of what will be many more to come. There are currently 124 vacancies on federal courts, including 19 vacancies on the circuit courts of appeals. This gives Trump the opportunity to have a significant impact on the composition of the federal courts, an opportunity that is only likely to expand given the number of sitting judges who are or will soon be eligible for senior status. Were that not enough, the Judicial Conference of the United States also recommends the creation of 57 additional judgeships.