Trump’s most important achievement on the judicial front in 2017 was his appointment of Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy left by Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. That appointment consummated Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s strategy of keeping the vacancy open through the 2016 presidential election, and it resoundingly vindicated the wisdom of that strategy. . . .
In 2017, President Trump also appointed twelve federal appellate judges — a record for a president in his first year in office. . . . Beyond their number, Trump’s appellate appointees have, on the whole, outstanding credentials and are highly regarded in conservative legal circles. Indeed, six of the twelve have already earned their way onto Trump’s list of Supreme Court candidates. The twelve include three women [and] two Asian Americans . . . .
Three factors account for this remarkable success on federal appellate judges. First, the conservative legal movement has grown significantly over the past two decades. . . . Second, thank Harry Reid. In November 2013, the Democratic majority leader pushed to repeal the filibuster for lower-court (and executive-branch) nominees. His success meant that a steadfast minority of 41 or more senators could no longer block a judicial nomination. . . . Third, federal appellate nominations mattered deeply to the key players. Kudos to President Trump and White House counsel Don McGahn for selecting excellent nominees, and to Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley for placing a high priority on moving them through to confirmation.
But Mr. Whelan notes that, despite last year's successes, much work remains to be done, partly due to the huge number of vacancies that need to be filled and partly due to the obstruction of Senate Democrats at every step of the process:
Two big obstacles — one at the front end of the nomination process, the other at the back end — have caused these impasses and threaten to continue to stymie judicial confirmations. The front-end obstacle is the Senate Judiciary Committee’s so-called blue-slip privilege, which accords individual senators the opportunity to approve or disapprove of judicial nominees in their home states (and which derives its name from the piece of paper that senators once used to register their views). . . . Given the stark divide on judicial philosophy between the White House and Senate Democrats, not to mention the animosity between them, it’s no surprise that the consultations that the White House has undertaken on judicial nominations have yielded little fruit. . . . [The confirmation] line may prove long and slow because of the back-end obstacle that nominees face: the Senate’s arcane and cumbersome “cloture” process.
The entire article is well worth reading for a summary of the current status of federal judicial nominations. As he notes, White House Counsel Don McGahn, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley have been instrumental to the success of President Trump's first year, and Americans owe them a debt of gratitude.