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Lindsey Graham abandons the pretense of an independent judiciary

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee seems to scoff at the idea of an independent judiciary, and he's unusually brazen about it.
Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) appeared on the Trump campaign's official webcast a couple of weeks ago, bragging about his party's success in moving the nation's federal judiciary to the right. "One in four judges in America are Trump appointees," the senator boasted. "Can you imagine four more years of being able to appoint conservative judges?"

Increasingly, the Republican Party is focused on little else. Donald Trump doesn't have much of a platform, and GOP officials rarely talk about the kind of policy measures they hope to pursue after the elections. What Republicans have is a preoccupation with the courts, which they see as a proxy for conservative governance and the conservative agenda.

Yesterday, Graham took an even more brazen step in the same direction.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday urged federal judges who are in their mid-to-late 60s to step aside so that Republicans, increasingly nervous about holding the Senate majority in the November election as they eye President Trump's poll numbers, can fill the vacancies now. Graham made the comments in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

"This is an historic opportunity," Graham said. "We've put over 200 federal judges on the bench.... If you can get four more years, I mean, it would change the judiciary for several generations. So if you're a circuit judge in your mid-60s, late 60s, you can take senior status, now would be a good time to do that, if you want to make sure the judiciary is right of center."

There was some chatter yesterday that the South Carolinian's comments reflected an unstated concern about his party's electoral prospects. It's a fair point: if Graham assumed that Donald Trump was a shoo-in for a second term, and that Republicans will have no trouble maintaining their Senate majority, he may not be quite as eager to see current judges step aside to make room for far-right replacements.

But I was also struck by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee being so brazen about the politicization of the nation's federal courts. To hear Graham tell it, judges should effectively see themselves as political operatives who should prioritize a broader ideological agenda.

Or put another way, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee seems to scoff at the idea of an independent judiciary.

That said, the senator isn't wrong about the likely consequences of his partisan efforts: Trump's re-election would very likely "change the judiciary for several generations." It would be a development that would shape American public life for much of the 21st century -- on everything from the environment to health care, civil rights to the economy -- and if progressive-minded voters don't share Lindsey Graham's interest in this, they will regret it.