Jurisprudence

Trump Just Flipped a Court That Will Decide Crucial Voter Suppression Cases in the South

Trump walking with his hand up toward the camera.
President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images

As the House of Representatives held impeachment hearings on Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Barbara Lagoa to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. With this confirmation, President Donald Trump has flipped the 11th Circuit, meaning a majority of its judges were appointed by Republican presidents. Five of the court’s 12 judges were appointed by Trump himself, and another was appointed by George W. Bush. George H.W. Bush appointed the court’s chief judge. Conservatives now hold a 7–5 edge.

The 11th Circuit is the third court that Trump has flipped, following the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 2nd and 3rd Circuits. Seven of the nation’s federal courts of appeals are now controlled by Republican appointees, six by Democratic appointees. Trump has appointed 48 judges to the courts of appeals in less than three years; by contrast, President Barack Obama appointed 48 judges to these courts total during his eight years in office. (That excludes the Federal Circuit, which can only hear a narrow range of claims, most notably patent law.) A quarter of all active appellate judges on the federal bench today were nominated by Trump.

Lagoa, 52, was confirmed by a vote of 80–15. She will be the first Cuban American woman on the 11th Circuit. A day before her confirmation, the Senate elevated Robert Luck, 40, to the 11th Circuit by a vote of 64–31. Both Lagoa and Luck are members of the Federalist Society who previously served on the Florida Supreme Court for just 10 months. They were tapped for that job by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, as well as Leonard Leo, the head of the Federalist Society. (Leo personally screened applicants for the state’s high court.) Lagoa and Luck are staunchly conservative jurists.

The 11th Circuit encompasses Florida, Georgia, and Alabama—essentially the epicenter of Republican voter suppression today. It routinely hears challenges to these states’ efforts to disenfranchise citizens, including cases involving voter purges, targeted poll closures, stringent voter ID laws, burdensome registration requirements, attacks on student voting, felon disenfranchisement, and nullification of ballots. Lagoa’s and Luck’s confirmations dramatically increase the probability that the 11th Circuit will greenlight Republicans’ assault on suffrage in two states, Florida and Georgia, that will play an outsized role in the 2020 elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell boasted last Thursday at a Federalist Society event that he was poised to flip the 11th Circuit. “My motto,” he said, is to “leave no vacancy behind.” The Senate’s rapid confirmation of judicial nominees ensures that, no matter how and when Trump’s presidency ends, his judges will bend the law rightward for decades to come.