President Trump’s first lower court nominee was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday, marking the administration's first success in filling the hundred-plus federal court vacancies.
The Senate voted 52-44 to confirm Judge Amul Thapar to the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Although Democrats opposed him, Thapar’s nomination was considered a lock. A federal district judge in Kentucky since 2008, he was on Trump’s short list during the campaign of possible US Supreme Court nominees and he counts Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a longtime supporter.
With Thapar’s confirmation, there are 152 current and upcoming judicial vacancies — 23 on the appeals courts, 121 on the district courts (Thapar's seat on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky is now open), and 8 on other courts, such as the Court of International Trade and Court of Federal Claims.
There are eight other lower court nominations pending at the moment, and more nominees are expected soon as the White House continues to vet and interview candidates.
The large number of open court seats — a result of inaction by Senate Republicans on many of President Obama’s nominees during his final years in office — offer Trump an early opportunity to reshape the judiciary.
In a coincidentally-timed demonstration of the power of the lower courts, Thapar’s confirmation on Thursday came within minutes of a ruling from another federal appeals court, the Fourth Circuit, upholding a nationwide injunction blocking the administration’s temporary ban on immigration from six majority-Muslim countries.