Ballotpedia’s Daily Brew: The makeup of the federal judiciary

Welcome to the Monday, Nov. 16, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Under Trump, Republican-appointed majorities in circuit courts doubled
  2. Wyoming amendment concerning municipal debt for sewage systems fails due to non-votes
  3. Upcoming elections

Number of federal circuit courts with a majority of judges appointed by Republican presidents has doubled in Trump administration

From time to time, we’ve written in the Brew about the pace and status of judicial confirmations by the Trump administration. As 2020 draws to a close, let’s take a look back at the past four years.

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, the number of federal circuit courts with Republican-appointed majorities has doubled from four to eight. Trump has appointed 52 judges to the 13 federal circuit courts. There are 179 U.S. Court of Appeals judgeships overall.

In January 2017, there were 90 judges appointed by Democrats, 74 judges appointed by Republicans, and 14 vacancies across the circuit courts. In November 2020, there were 80 judges appointed by Democrats, 97 judges appointed by Republicans, and one vacancy.

Of the five circuits that did not flip from majority Democratic-appointed to majority Republican-appointed, all but one kept the same partisan balance. The Ninth Circuit went from an 18-9 split (with two vacancies) before Trump took office to a 16-13 split (with no vacancies). The other four are the First, Tenth, D.C, and Federal Circuits.

All four circuits that were majority Republican-appointed when Trump took office added to that majority. The Fifth Circuit moved from R+5 to R+7, the Sixth Circuit from R+5 to R+6, the Seventh Circuit from R+2 to R+6, and the Eighth Circuit from R+6 to R+9.

Trump made the most appointments (10) to the Ninth Circuit. He made six appointments each to the Fifth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits. The only circuits without a Trump appointee as of November 2020 were the First Circuit and the Federal Circuit.

Overall, Trump had made 220 federal judicial appointments through Nov. 1 of this year. This is the highest number up to that date in a president’s first term since Jimmy Carter (D), who appointed 260 federal judges in that time period. Bill Clinton (D) follows Trump, having appointed 203 judges during the same time. 

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Wyoming amendment concerning municipal debt for sewage systems fails due to non-votes

We’ve been tracking and updating you on the November 2020 ballot measure results as they come in. Here’s an interesting one that may have been buried under all the others.

A Wyoming measure designed to remove the limit on debt a municipality could incur for sewer projects failed after 11% of the ballots cast either left the measure blank or filled in both “for” and “against.” The measure failed since it required approval from a majority of voters casting a ballot at the election, which means leaving Amendment A blank was the equivalent of voting against it. 

  • Total ballots cast at the election: 278,503 (100%)
  • Total votes for Amendment A: 126,589 (45.45%)
  • Total votes against Amendment A: 120,808 (43.38%)
  • Undervotes and overvotes on Amendment A: 31,106 (11.17%)

In other words, the measure received a plurality of votes cast, but it required a majority based on the total number of ballots cast for it to be approved. 

Five other states besides Wyoming have the requirement that a majority of voters must approve a constitutional amendment. Four—Utah, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Illinois—require constitutional amendments to be approved by a majority of all voters at the election, and one (Tennessee) requires approval from a number equal to a majority of all voters casting a ballot for governor. Nebraska, Mississippi, and Massachusetts have provisions that require approval from a certain percentage, ranging from 30% to 40%, of all voters at the election. Provisions like these mean that a certain number of undervotes on an amendment could prevent the measure from passing despite approval from a majority of votes cast on the measure itself.

Here are some background facts:

  • From 1996 through 2018, the Wyoming State Legislature referred 26 constitutional amendments to the ballot. Voters approved 18 and rejected eight of the referred amendments. 
  • Four of the eight rejected measures were defeated despite receiving more yes votes than no votes. 
  • All of the amendments were referred to the ballot for general elections during even-numbered election years. 
  • The average number of amendments appearing on the general election ballot was two. 
  • The approval rate at the ballot box was 69.23% during the 22-year period from 1996 through 2018. The rejection rate was 30.77%.

Ballotpedia covers local measures that appear on the ballot for voters within the top 100 largest cities in the U.S. Ballotpedia also covers all local measures in California and all statewide ballot measures. For the latest on ballot measures, click here subscribe to our State Ballot Measure Monthly newsletter. 

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Upcoming elections

After the whirlwind of the Nov. 3 elections, you might think elections are over for this year. However, residents in several states still have upcoming races in November and December. Here’s a look at what’s coming up:

  • Alabama: A special general election and a special primary will be held for a state House and state Senate district, respectively, on Nov. 17.
  • Mississippi: A general runoff election will be held for a school district and state House district on Nov. 24.
  • Arkansas: A general runoff election will be held for a school district on Dec. 1.
  • Georgia: General runoff elections will be held for statewide races and one federal race on Dec. 1.
  • Louisiana: General statewide elections will be held on Dec. 5.
  • Texas: A general runoff election will be held for mayoral and city council seats on Dec. 12.

There is also a potential runoff election for the regular U.S. Senate race in Georgia, which would be held on Jan. 5. 

The runoffs for statewide and federal offices in Georgia are on separate dates to allow enough time to send and receive military and overseas ballots.

We’ll be covering the Georgia elections in a regular newsletter starting later this week. Stay tuned for more details!
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