President Donald Trump has made big changes to the federal judiciary since taking office in 2017. Trump has appointed two Supreme Court justices – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – as well as nearly 200 other judges with lifetime appointments to lower federal courts.
So how does Trump compare with other presidents in the number and personal characteristics of the judges he has appointed to the federal bench so far? Below are four charts that compare Trump’s record on judicial appointments to those of his recent White House predecessors, going back to Jimmy Carter.
All findings are based on a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Federal Judicial Center, the research and education arm of the federal judiciary. The analysis focuses on judges already confirmed to their positions by the U.S. Senate – not nominees who are still awaiting votes.
Federal judicial appointments are an important part of a president’s job responsibilities. As the 2020 election approaches, Pew Research Center conducted this analysis of Donald Trump’s judicial appointees to find out how his record compares with that of other recent presidents, going back to Jimmy Carter. The analysis is based on data published by the Federal Judicial Center, the research and education agency of the federal judicial branch.
This analysis focuses only on judges confirmed by the U.S. Senate as of July 7, 2020. It excludes nominees who are still awaiting Senate votes. It also focuses only on judges serving in the three main tiers of the federal court system: the Supreme Court, 13 appeals courts and 91 district courts governed by Article III of the U.S. Constitution. It excludes those appointed to certain specialized courts, such as the U.S. Court of International Trade, as well as appointees to non-Article III territorial courts in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands.
For consistency, all comparisons between Trump and past presidents are as of July 7 of each president’s fourth year in office. For the analysis of judges’ race and ethnicity, white judges include only single-race non-Hispanics, as reported by the Federal Judicial Center. Nonwhite judges include Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native Americans, as well as those who are multiracial or multiethnic.
Trump has now appointed almost a quarter of all active federal judges in the United States. As of July 7, there were 792 active judges serving across the three main tiers of the federal court system: the Supreme Court, 13 regional appeals courts and 91 district courts governed by Article III of the U.S. Constitution. In his first term, Trump has appointed 194 of those judges, or 24% of the total. (This analysis excludes appointees to certain specialized courts, such as the U.S. Court of International Trade, as well as appointees to non-Article III territorial courts in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands.)
During his eight years in office, Barack Obama appointed the largest share of currently active federal judges, at 39%. Another two-term president, George W. Bush, appointed 21%. Around one-in-ten active judges (11%) were appointed by Bill Clinton, while much smaller shares were appointed by George H.W. Bush (2%) and Ronald Reagan (2%). One active federal judge, Carmen Consuelo Cerezo of the District of Puerto Rico, was appointed by Jimmy Carter.
Trump has appointed more federal appeals court judges to date than any recent president at the same point in their presidency. The overall number of federal judges Trump has appointed to date (194) is similar to the number appointed by George W. Bush at the same juncture in his presidency (197). Trump, however, stands out for his unusually large number of appeals court judges — the powerful regional jurists who have the final word on most appeals that do not end up in the Supreme Court and who frequently end up becoming Supreme Court justices themselves. Eight of the nine current high court justices, including both of Trump’s appointees, previously served as appeals court judges.
Trump has appointed 53 appeals court judges to date, far higher than the number appointed by nearly every other recent president at the same point in their tenure. The exception is Carter, who successfully appointed 54 appeals court judges by July 7 of his fourth (and final) year in office.
Trump has appointed a larger share of female judges than other recent Republican presidents but a smaller share than recent Democratic presidents. As of July 7, a quarter of the federal judges Trump has appointed are women. That’s higher than the share of women judges appointed by George W. Bush (21%) and George H.W. Bush (15%) at the same point in their presidencies, but lower than the share appointed by Obama (45%) and Clinton (30%) at the same point in theirs.
Recent Democratic presidents have been more likely than recent Republican presidents to appoint women as judges, but chief executives in both parties have become more likely over time to do so.
So far, Trump has been more likely than other recent presidents to appoint judges who are white. More than eight-in-ten (85%) of the federal judges appointed by Trump through July 7 are white, while 15% are of a different race or ethnicity. The last president to appoint such a high share of white jurists through July 7 of his fourth year in office was George H.W. Bush; 91% of his judicial appointees at the time were white. Obama, meanwhile, stands out as the president who appointed the highest share of nonwhite judges by the same point in his tenure: More than a third of Obama’s appointed judges (36%) were nonwhite.