The U.S. Senate confirmed Barbara Lagoa to the Eleventh Circuit by a vote of 80-15 on Wednesday, replacing Judge Stanley Marcus, a Clinton-appointee who had sat on the court for over two decades. Lagoa is the 48th circuit court judge appointed by President Trump over the course of his presidency, making 28 percent of all circuit court judges now Trump appointees.
The Eleventh Circuit exercises jurisdiction over federal cases arising in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. A graduate of Florida International University and then Columbia Law School, Lagoa served for a dozen years on Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals, until Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appointed her to the Florida Supreme Court in January.
As the daughter of Cuban immigrants who eventually settled in Florida after fleeing Castro’s regime in the ’60s, Lagoa has openly discussed the manner in which her family experiences have influenced her judicial philosophy, particularly following her appointment to the Florida Supreme Court:
I am particularly mindful of the fact that under our constitutional system, it is for the legislature and not for the courts to make the law. It is the role of judges to apply, not to alter, the work of the people’s representatives. And it is the role of judges to interpret our Constitution and statutes as they are written.
In the country my parents fled, the whim of a single individual could mean the difference between food or hunger, liberty or prison, life or death. In our great country and our great state, we are governed by the rule of law—the consistent and equal application of the law to all litigants regardless of a judge’s personal preferences. Unlike the country my parents fled, we are a nation of laws, not of men.
Lagoa’s confirmation is significant in a variety of ways. She is the first Hispanic woman to sit on the Eleventh Circuit and the first Hispanic to be nominated by President Trump for a Court of Appeals vacancy. Her confirmation also comes just one day after the Senate’s vote to confirm 40-year-old Robert Luck to the Eleventh Circuit, as well.
The combined confirmations of Luck and Lagoa mark the third circuit that the Trump administration has tilted in favor of Republican appointees. For mere hours prior to Lagoa’s confirmation, the Eleventh Circuit’s twelve seats experienced an even split between Democrat and Republican appointees. Now, there are seven seats filled by GOP-appointed judges, five of them by Trump-appointees alone.
“Trump’s already had five appointees to the court, it’s already a much more conservative court than before and it might be the second most conservative court in the country,” Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond told the Tampa Bay Times.
Tobias also pointed out how the GOP-controlled legislatures in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, when combined with the new makeup of the Eleventh Circuit, make the ground ripe for possible test cases of interest in conservative jurisprudence circles—cases impacting cultural wedge issues, such as abortion and capital punishment.
Lagoa’s confirmation is a reminder of the Trump Administration’s tremendous impact on the federal judiciary, reverberations of which will likely continue for decades after his presidency, particularly given the younger age of most Trump appointees and the lifetime tenure that accompanies a judicial appointment. Trump has appointed and confirmed double the number of circuit court judges that Obama appointed and confirmed at the same point in his presidency.
In a speech last Thursday evening at the Federalist Society’s annual Scalia Dinner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed his new motto, “Leave no vacancy behind.” A quick examination of the federal judiciary system reveals he has largely adhered to it. Indeed, as protesters crafted their signs for an anti-Kavanaugh protest outside the Scalia Dinner venue, the Second Circuit monumentally “flipped” in favor of Republican appointees—a reversal marked by the confirmation of Judge Steve Menashi on November 14 and Judge William Nardini on November 7.
Almost 30 percent of all circuit court judges in the United States are now Trump appointees, and as of the first week of November, nearly one in five, or 17%, of district court judges are Trump appointees. The average age of Trump-appointed circuit court judges is 49.1, based on late October numbers shared with PBS News by McConnell’s office and adjusted for the addition of Nardini, Menashi, Luck, and Lagoa. Trump appointees are on average a decade younger than Obama-appointed circuit court judges, a discrepancy whose significance cannot be overstated.
The Left’s current obsession with the federal judiciary is hyper-focused on the Supreme Court, as evidenced by routine calls from 2020 Democratic nominees to impeach Justice Kavanaugh nearly a year after his confirmation hearings. But it’s likely that this anxiety is misplaced—though the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court is asked to review over 7,000 cases per year but often hears under 100 of those cases (less than 1.5%). This significant gap indicates that the twelve circuit courts and 94 district courts almost always offer the “final word” on cases filed in federal court.
For many voters in 2016, particularly Trump voters who were less-than-thrilled with the President’s demeanor, federal judicial selection was, and continues to be, an issue of the utmost importance. Indeed, according to a 2016 Washington Post poll, a majority of Trump voters cited his ability to nominate justices to the Supreme Court as the “most important factor” in their decision to vote for Trump.
In an era where the Left perpetually advocates for staggering changes to society, and with the aim of using the judiciary to enforce it, the notion of a judiciary confined to the text before it (and to its original public meaning, as understood at the time of the Founding) is something wholly critical to a healthy democratic republic. As the Federalist Society routinely emphasizes, “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.” Appointing and confirming such judges is the first step to ensuring that very type of jurisprudence remains a staple of the federal judiciary.