WASHINGTON – Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is publicly urging federal judges in their mid-60s or older to step aside so President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans can fill the vacancies with conservative jurists.
Graham’s comments, in an interview Thursday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, come as Republicans fret they may lose the Senate majority in the November elections amid the economic shutdown resulting from the coronavirus and Trump’s stumbles in addressing the crisis.
Democrats have increasing hopes of gaining the minimum three seats they’ll need to capture a Senate majority, while Republicans who once banked on a robust economy and rising Trump approval ratings are showing signs of nervousness.
“This is an historic opportunity,” Graham said. “We’ve put (nearly) 200 federal judges on the bench. ... If you can get four more years, I mean, it would change the judiciary for several generations. So if you’re a circuit judge in your mid-60s, late 60s, you can take senior status. Now would be a good time to do that, if you want to make sure the judiciary is right of center.”
Graham's committee is set to vote next week on Judge Justin Walker, a 37-year-old protege of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has been nominated to the nation’s second-most powerful court. If confirmed, Walker would take an appeals court seat being vacated by Judge Thomas Griffith, who intends to retire in September. The Judiciary Committee also is considering 49-year-old Cory Wilson, a Mississippi judge who has been nominated to a seat on the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Asked by Hewitt if he can assure veteran judges that their successor “will indeed be confirmed before the election,” Graham said, "Well, if you wait, you know, (until) November the 1st, no. So do it now.''
Hewitt replied: “Do it now. Loud and clear.”
The interview with Graham was not the first time the issue of Republicans seeking judicial retirements has been raised publicly. Earlier this month, Chief Justice John Roberts turned down a request from the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to allow an ethics inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Griffith's retirement.
A legal adviser to Roberts said the request from Judge Sri Srinivasan, the circuit’s chief judge, did not meet the standards for transferring the inquiry to another judicial circuit to pursue.
Demand Justice, a progressive advocacy group, filed a complaint in March asking the appeals court to determine whether McConnell or any other lawmaker had inappropriately played a role in Griffith's decision to retire. The vacancy creates an election-year slot on the influential appeals court, where four of the nine current Supreme Court justices served, including Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh.
Griffith issued a statement earlier this month saying no political pressure was put on him to leave the bench.