"Mediocre and highly politicized," was the opinion the 78-year-old jurist gave of the justices who sit in D.C. during a recent talk at the University of Chicago.
"We have a very crappy judicial system."
Posner — the most highly cited legal scholar of the 20th century, according to the Journal of Legal Studies — repeated his complaint that politicians are more concerned with appointing "tokens" such as women or Hispanic justices, and with would-be justices' politics than they are with merit.
"If you had 19 members you would inevitably have more diversity," he told Prof. Luigi Zingales during the talk. Posner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, said no president since Herbert Hoover has appointed a Supreme Court justice who "was not in either his personal or his political interest."
"The modern presidents don't think that way, but if the Supreme Court was much larger, they might say, 'Well, OK ... we have 19 justices, 12 of them are highly politicized, but we have these extra 7 seats, so we'll appoint them on the basis of quality,' and that would make a big difference."
Meantime, President Trump may be losing at a bunch of things, but he is winning on judges:
The White House has announced more than two dozen lower court nominees to date, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has been holding hearings and sending nominees to the full Senate for a vote at a regular clip.
Just Monday, after the news broke that White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was ousted on the 11th day of his tenure, the Senate took a key procedural vote on a federal appeals court nominee out of Alabama, Kevin Newsom. On July 20 — as the White House dealt with fallout from an interview published the night before in which President Trump criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions — the Senate confirmed Kentucky lawyer John Bush to the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, notwithstanding a coordinated, well-funded opposition campaign by groups on the left.
“It’s just been a win on all fronts,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, which supports conservative court nominees.
The administration’s success with judges is about more than the fact that Republicans control the Senate. Lower courts remain mostly of regional interest, despite the fact that federal judges have lifetime tenure and issue rulings that can affect the entire country. Senators defer to their colleagues’ preferred local picks. There is little incentive to interfere, even if, as was true with John Bush, Republicans have concerns about a nominee’s record.
There’s also the fact that Republicans historically have been more organized on judges than Democrats, said David Fontana, a professor at George Washington University Law School who follows judicial nominations. There are numerous interest groups and political factions around issues like health care, he said, but there is a tight-knit community of conservative lawyers who foster and promote court nominees during Republican administrations.