With U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley preparing to step down as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the time has come to take measure of his eventful tenure. Since becoming chairman in 2015, Grassley led with a steady hand and achieved lasting results despite intense and often hostile opposition.
As he leaves his post to take the gavel at the Finance Committee, we urge his yet-to-be-determined successor — likely U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — to follow his example: be a no-nonsense leader and work steadily to fill the many judicial vacancies that remain.
It’s no secret that judicial appointments have become increasingly politicized and polarized in the last few decades. More issues are being decided not by the legislative branch, but by the federal courts. That’s not the way it should be, but the way it is.
As a result, the judicial branch has become a partisan battlefield, with votes on Supreme Court nominees turning into highly partisan spectacles. Both sides use the process to rouse their base.
In the past 30 years, nominees to the federal bench have faced increasing obstructionism. The average number of “no” votes during judicial confirmations have increased dramatically in that same period.
In this era of hyper-partisanship and unprecedented opposition, Grassley achieved something remarkable: he shepherded a record-breaking number of judicial nominees to confirmation.
Thanks to Grassley’s efforts, President Donald Trump has had more judges confirmed to federal circuit courts than any recent president in his first two years in office — nearly double the number President Barack Obama had confirmed in his first two years.
And Grassley accomplished all of this in his understated Midwestern fashion, without the grandstanding and posturing that characterizes many of his Judiciary Committee colleagues.
Even when protesters disrupted recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, swarmed his office, and tried to force him into canceling the vote, Grassley refused to budge. He participated in town halls throughout the confirmation process, explaining his perspective and engaging his constituents.
His work will leave a lasting legacy. The median age of President Donald Trump’s circuit court appointments is 49, lower than all of his five immediate predecessors’ nominees. They will shape law for several decades. Their philosophy is largely based on the idea of originalism, that the judiciary’s job is to say what the law is, not what it should be — that the Constitution should be interpreted according to what the words of the document were understood to mean when they were written.
This means the 85 year-old Grassley — first elected to office (in the Iowa Statehouse) in 1958 and to the U.S. Senate in 1981 — will be influencing the nation for decades to come.
It’s a fine lesson in how true leaders can achieve lasting results without flash and in the midst of intense opposition.
There’s another bit of good news with this development. As he transitions to lead the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley will be in a prime position to expand new trade markets to our farmers, reduce our tax burden and give consumers access to more health care options. We stand ready as a continued partner for him.
Grassley’s tough, no-nonsense approach has garnered much praise. Even some Democrats have expressed appreciation for Grassley’s dedication to oversight and accountability.
Despite these accomplishments, much work remains. There are 136 federal judicial vacancies, with 69 pending nominees; 112 of those 136 vacancies are in the district courts, the first and often only stop for citizens seeking redress at the federal level.
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The next Senate Judiciary chairman will have big shoes to fill. To achieve success, he would do well to emulate Grassley’s example of unwavering, unassuming leadership.
• Drew Klein is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Iowa. Mark Lucas, a former Iowa state director, leads AFP efforts on judicial nominations.