Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Third Circuit Flips

As anticipated last fall when Judge Thomas Vanaskie announced his decision to take senior status, the Senate’s confirmation earlier this week of Peter Phipps to Vanaskie’s vacancy means that the Third Circuit will have a majority of its judges in active service—eight of fourteen—who were appointed by Republican presidents.

At the outset of the Trump administration, the Third Circuit had seven Democratic appointees, five Republican appointees, and two vacancies. Upon Phipps’s taking his seat, it will become the first federal court of appeals that President Trump will have flipped from a majority of Democratic appointees to a majority of Republican appointees.

The Second Circuit will flip to a majority of Republican appointees if and when the White House fills the two existing vacancies. The Eleventh Circuit has moved from a large Democratic-appointee majority (8-3, with one vacancy) to a 6-6 tie. (The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits had majorities of Republican appointees at the outset of the Trump administration and have expanded the margins.)

Again, though, have in mind that party of appointing president is an imperfect proxy for judicial philosophy. In particular, the number of conservative judges is usually lower than the number of Republican-appointed judges.

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