President Trump Expected To Fill Three Vacancies On The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals

Feb 6, 2017

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Iowa and six other Midwestern states, will soon be the most "lopsided" federal appeals court in terms of the number of judges appointed by a single party.

As Rox Laird writes in the Iowa appellate court blog "On Brief", due to several retirements, President Donald Trump is expected to appoint three new judges to the Eight Circuit’s bench. This means only one of the court’s eleven judges won’t be a Republican appointee.

Though the court will almost completely comprise GOP appointees, this probably won’t affect the outcomes of most cases coming before the Eighth Circuit.

"Circuit courts generally are not carving out new constitutional rights," Laird says. "They have to ground their decisions in what the U.S. Supreme Courts says."

Additionally, because senators sign off on circuit court nominees from their own states, this also provides some ideological balance. For example, one of the Eight Circuit's vacancies is from Minnesota, and it's unlikely that state's two Democratic senators will approve a conservative in the mold of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

But if the composition of the Eighth Circuit does lead to more distinctly ideological decisions, that means there may be more cases from Iowa (or Arkansas, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Missouri, or Nebraska) headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

"For example, the Ninth Circuit might come to a decision one way, and the Eighth Circuit go the opposite way...the U.S. Supreme Court then takes that case up." says attorney Ryan Koopmans, who also writes for "On Brief" and has argued before the Eighth Circuit. "So when have these circuits that might come out differently, really perhaps what we just get is more U.S. Supreme Court cases. Which is not necessarily a bad thing."

One of the vacancies includes the Eighth Circuit's current chief judge, who plans to take senior status in June. Laird notes that Judge Lavenski Smith of Arkansas will take his place, making him the first African-American judge to serve as chief for the Eighth Circuit.