This past Friday, President Trump signed an Executive Order suspending immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Around 9:00 PM Saturday, federal judge Ann Donnelly blocked much of the order. Judge Donnelly’s decision sparked a furious backlash among Trump supporters, some of whom temporarily rewrote her Wikipedia page, calling her an Islamist sympathizer. However, more importantly, the order, along with three others issued shortly after, gave a lifeline to lawful immigrants left stranded. It was a stark reminder of how important judges can be.
The President’s ability to appoint federal judges is one of his most enduring powers. Years after he leaves office, the judges President Trump has appointed will continue to hear cases and influence the law. For example, Judge Andrew Hanen, appointed by President George W. Bush, halted President Obama’s DAPA program in 2015. Similarly, Donnelly, appointed by Obama, was able to stay President Trump’s orders.
None of this makes judges political actors. Rather, lifetime appointments serve to insulate federal judges from political pressure and allow them to make unpopular decisions. In 1957, Judge Ronald Davies refused to order federal troops out of Arkansas, allowing them to desegregate Little Rock schools. In 2015, Judge Callie Granade struck down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. History is replete with such examples of federal judges standing up for the Constitution, even when political pressures dictate otherwise.
In less than twelve hours, President Trump will announce his nominee to serve as Associate Justice for the Supreme Court. It will be the first of hundreds of names he will send to the Senate to fill judicial vacancies across the country. Once confirmed, these judges will reshape the law over the next three decades. It is essential that Trump names judges whose fealty is to the Constitution and the rule of law, rather than to a political party or figure. It is equally important for citizens to follow the process and weigh in. After all, if there is a takeaway from the last three days, it is that judges matter.