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On Monday, the last judicial shoe dropped on Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his third and final high court challenge. As America transitions to a Biden presidency, the court’s ruling exemplifies why the judiciary is our nation’s strongest bulwark against authoritarianism. Indeed, during the biggest threat to our democracy in modern history, the American court system was our last line of defense, proving, as Andrew Jackson once wrote, “All the rights secured to the citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing…except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous judiciary.”
When Donald Trump left office in January as a one-term president, he had nonetheless made a vast impact on the American court system. In four years, Trump had appointed 226 justices to the federal bench, including 54 to the appellate court. This latter number is just one justice fewer than Barack Obama appointed to that court in his entire eight years as president. Of the nation’s 13 federal appeals courts, Trump succeeded in flipping three from liberal to conservative majorities. His three Supreme Court justices, meanwhile, were the most appointed in a single term since Richard Nixon. Indeed, Trump’s mark on the American judiciary will be long-lasting and profound.
Which is why it was so significant that Trump’s bogus, execrable claim that the election was “stolen” from him—the “Big Lie” as many have called it—was unequivocally, even contemptuously, repudiated by the courts. In doing so, the American judiciary saved our democracy. That may sound hyperbolic, but in an age so politically volatile that members of the American right wing plotted to kidnap a governor, broke into the U.S. Capitol, and believed the Democratic party was being led by Satan-worshipping cannibals, the judiciary proved our only institution immune to the virulent hyper-partisanship infecting this country. It managed to maintain, if just barely, the legitimacy of both political parties.