“Senator McConnell knows he can’t achieve any of his extreme goals legislatively, so he continues to attempt to pull America to the far right by packing the courts,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, said in a statement. He predicted that his counterpart’s emphasis on the courts “will significantly hurt Republican senators in November.”
“If Mitch McConnell is having direct conversations to pressure sitting federal judges to basically retire so Trump can name more picks, it is court-packing in a different form,” said Brian Fallon, the executive director of the progressive judicial group Demand Justice. “It raises the question of what, if anything, McConnell is offering them to take senior status earlier than planned. This type of hand-in-glove coordination shows how utterly politicized the judicial branch is.”
Republicans have sent signals about judicial retirements in the past. In May 2018, with a midterm election looming that could have flipped the Senate, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time, openly urged any Supreme Court justice pondering retirement to pull the trigger.
“If you are thinking about quitting this year, do it yesterday,” Mr. Grassley said during a radio interview. “If we have a Democrat Senate, you’re never going to get the kind of people that are strict constructionists.”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stepped down a little more than a month later and was replaced by Justice Kavanaugh, his former clerk.
While acknowledging the continuing lobbying effort, other Republicans were uncertain how effective it could be given the traditional independence of federal judges holding lifetime appointments.
“Federal judges have very strong independent streaks, and you can’t make them do it,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a senior Republican member of the Judiciary Committee. “Unless they see some benefit to themselves, I don’t expect people to do it.”