One way the President of the United States can impact the political and legal spectrum long after they have left office is their appointments of federal judges. Through the precedent of judicial review set back in 1803, we have seen time and again in our nation's history how judges make laws. Since federal judges enjoy lifetime tenure, they are a useful tool for presidents to make a lasting impact.
President Obama has appointed a total of 158 federal judges. The breakdown is two Supreme Court Justices, 30 circuit court justices, and 126 district court justices with many more to still be confirmed by the senate. A major criticism of the President during his early career was that he should have been nominating more judges. President Obama had a chance to make a magnanimous impact on the federal court system with the amount of vacant seats available for appointment. However the senate has not been cooperative with confirming these appointments by letting them sit for a long period of time.
To compare, George W. Bush appointed two Supreme Court Justices, 62 circuit court judges, 261 district court judges bringing his total to 325 appointments. Clinton and Reagan have appointed the most judges in American history. Reagan had three Supreme Court appointments while Clinton only had two. There are four presidents who did not have an opportunity to make a Supreme Court appointment. The most recent was Jimmy Carter.
One president who took full advantage of this privilege was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With Roosevelt's court packing plan, he appointed eight Supreme Court Justices. There was still a strong holdover of republicans in congress from the Hoover years and Roosevelt was having trouble pushing legislation through. The United States Constitution does not put a limit on the amount of Supreme Court Justices we can have, so Roosevelt packed the courts with democrats in order to push his initiatives through to help save the nation during the depression.
These appointments have shaped our laws in this country from the very beginning. When looking at the more recent appointments, the court has stayed right leaning since the Reagan appointments. This is why the ruling on the Affordable Care Act was so surprising. It will also be interesting to see how the court rules on the upcoming affirmative action case. Justice Kennedy, Scalia, and Alito are all against affirmative action. This decision could reshape the way institutions will admit students for years to come. Roe v. Wade has always been one of the more controversial Supreme Court rulings. With a conservative court, if a suit is brought to them, this ruling come into question.
With the election right around the corner, one is left with the question, how will Romney influence the federal court system? In an article by Ian Millhiser on Think Progress, Millhiser sights an op-ed by Mr. Romney in the Wall Street Journal regarding the controversial ruling in Massachusetts which officially legalized gay marriage. Romney states, "Beware of activist judges. The Legislature is our lawmaking body, and it is the Legislature’s job to pass laws.... This is not simply a separation of the branches of government, it is also a balance of powers." This is a clear opposition to the precedent of judicial review, common law, or judge made law. Judicial review is a perfect check and balance to our government. When the legislature proposes a bill and the president signs the bill into law, this is a way for the American people to challenge it for review. This is how judges make laws.
By appointing justices to the federal court system, a president can have a long lasting impact on the legal system. Justices Kennedy and Scalia are both Reagan appointees. Justice Kennedy is one of the more moderate members of the court and is unequivocally the deciding vote in almost every case. Sometimes this lasting influence is not always a good thing. After the Affordable Care Act ruling Donald Trump stated that President Bush should be ashamed of his appointment of Chief Justice Roberts who wrote the majority opinion of the court. The law was opposed by conservative from day one. Regardless of what the justices rule on or how they rule, they enjoy life tenure and can keep a president's influence for years.