Trump’s Mar-a-Lago fight shows how much he’s reshaped the courts

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago fight shows how much he’s reshaped the courts

As former president donald trumpThe legal entanglements of weaving through federal courts, he continues to face a strong chance of landing in front of a judge he has appointed.

More than half of the active federal appeals court judges willing to hear the latest phase of Trump’s fight with the Justice Department over the FBI’s search of his Mar-a-Lago home have won their positions thanks to Trump’s aggressive overhaul of the US justice system.

From the start, his push for a special master to review records seized as part of a criminal investigation into whether he had mishandled classified information highlighted the lasting imprint of his presidency of a mandate. Trump initially filed his motion in federal district court in South Florida, where a third of the court’s 15 active judges were confirmed under his administration. He found himself in front of one of his candidates.

The Justice Department is challenging the master’s special appointment in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump has named six of the circuit’s 11 active judges. He has listed four justices from that court, including three of his own nominees, on his public lists as a potential Supreme Court telegraphing their position within the conservative legal world.

It remains to be seen how often political connections translate into court victories for Trump. Federal judges will emphasize that they are not tied to the presidents who appointed them or to party politics. The dozens of judges who rejected efforts by Trump and his allies to defeat the president Joe BidenTrump’s victories in key states after the 2020 election included several of Trump’s own candidates.

But Trump also made it clear that he believed confirming the conservative justices was crucial to Republican policy priorities and his own political fortunes. He spoke openly about how he expected his candidates to speak out a certain way on hot-button issues like abortion. He referred to “my judges” during the election campaign and attacked judges who spoke out against him and his administration; his use of the phrase “Judge Obama” elicited rare public reactions from the Chief Justice John Roberts for the defense of the independence of justice.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, one of the last confirmed judges under Trump after the election, was accused of political bias when she granted his request for a special master in the Mar-a-Lago case.

Cannon also blocked federal investigators from using the seized records until the special master’s job was complete. Cannon was not one of Trump’s most controversial candidates, but one of his colleagues previously noted that the former president had filed another politically charged case in a court where she was the only sitting judge – although she was not assigned to her.

Cannon did not respond to a request for comment filed through the court’s press office.

“A Southern Court”

While appealing Cannon’s decision, the Justice Department has asked the judge to lift his order regarding approximately 100 documents with classified marks. The government argues that Trump has no legal interest as a former president, that a special master should not be allowed to see such sensitive documents, and that Cannon’s order will not only interfere with the criminal investigation, but also with a separate intelligence risk review. .

Cannon was one of 226 Trump judges confirmed for lifetime appointments under Trump, according to the Pew Research Center. Republicans in the White House and Senate have focused on moving candidates for the powerful federal appeals courts, upending the ideological balance of three circuits to have a majority of GOP nominees, including the 11th Circuit.

The 11th Circuit had a reputation for being a conservative court even before that, said Miami attorney Richard Klugh, who handles criminal cases before the circuit and headed the appeals division of the Southern Federal Defender’s Office. Florida. Klugh said he doesn’t believe the court’s rulings reflect a noticeable shift to the right since Trump’s nominees took office.

“I see it more as a southern court than a Republican or Democratic court,” Klugh said. “There is a certain belief in order, civility and peace. He has great respect for the law and law enforcement.

David Oscar Markus, another Miami criminal defense attorney who practices before the 11th Circuit, wrote in an email that the court’s “overall ideology” matches the Supreme Court, with a majority of conservative justices and a minority of “moderate” judges. .

Luck of the draw

“But all of them are hardworking, conscientious and very intelligent. As in all cases, much will depend on the panel chosen by the parties,” Markus wrote.

Trump’s six nominees provided various conservative touchstones. All were members of the Federalist Society, the group of conservative lawyers. Some had worked for Republican-appointed federal judges and Supreme Court justices, worked for Republican members of Congress and state officials, and had been chosen for state court judgeships by Republican governors.

Before Trump was appointed judge Barbara Lagoa for the 11th Circuit, she had been appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Governor Ron DeSantis, now a potential 2024 presidential candidate. Trump had considered Lagoa for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a seat eventually filled by Justice Amy Coney Barrett. One of Trump’s nominees to serve as special master to review Mar-a-Lago documents is Lagoa’s husband, Paul Huck Jr., a Florida attorney.

The 11th Circuit — which hears cases in Alabama, Florida and Georgia — is one of the newest federal courts of appeals. It was separated from the 5th Circuit, which covers other southern states, in 1981. Klugh said that in part because of South Florida’s heavy criminal record and the number of international disputes that pass through the state, the 11th circuit has experience. probing the government’s handling of potentially privileged materials and reliance on screening teams, which are at issue in Trump’s case.

The Circuit has taken a “narrower view” of when it has jurisdiction over these types of intermediate legal fights, Klugh said. He expected the justices assigned to the Justice Department appeal to consider whether they can hear the case at this stage.

What exactly the Justice Department will end up asking the circuit to do is unclear.

They formally appealed Cannon’s order, but did not request that the circuit intervene immediately to stop the effect. Prosecutors told Cannon they would wait until September 15 to see if she would grant their request to remove the classified documents from her order, and if she did, they would not seek emergency relief from the court. ‘call. Cannon gave Trump until September 12 to respond.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Zoe Tillman in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Tina Davis to [email protected]

Elizabeth Wasserman Joe Schneider

© 2022 Bloomberg LP All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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