In March of 1801, during the last days of his administration, President John Adams filled over a dozen vacancies in the federal court system, confirmations that would go on to be known as the “Midnight Judges.”
While this was originally designed to protect his policies from the incoming administration of Thomas Jefferson, Adams’ appointment of John Marshall as Chief Justice, in particular, would come to define the Supreme Court and the rule of law as we know it.
As the Biden administration years get underway, it is becoming clear that former President Donald Trump was taking notes from history.
Politico reported Thursday that “before leaving office, Donald Trump appointed dozens of allies and former aides to a wide range of government boards and commissions — and there’s not much Joe Biden can do about it.”
This is because, as Politico further explained, “those who have reviewed the law governing the boards say removing appointees can be difficult, especially if they come with political or business connections that could help the organizations.”
“Most appointees do not need Senate confirmation and will remain until the end of their yearslong terms. Those who support Trump’s appointments say if Congress opposes the appointment process, lawmakers should change it,” the outlet said.
Governing institutions that received Trump appointees shortly before the transfer of power include the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board and the Pentagon Defense Business Board.
While President Joe Biden will be able to remove some appointees (particularly those who do not have a set term), it is inevitable that many of these boards and commissions will remain bipartisan, if not Republican-leaning.
To put it simply, Trump was wise to follow Adams’ example.
Biden has made it abundantly clear that he wants to erase the last four years. From rescinding the Mexico City policy to rejoining the World Health Organization, Biden wants to permanently remove anything related to Trump — no matter how effective the policy, program or idea may have been.
However, the boards and commissions will now represent an obstacle.
Biden’s agenda goes far beyond politics. It seeks to fundamentally redefine American institutions, and having a few more left-leaning people in office would have been a useful tool in that endeavor.
The new appointments may not have formal legislative or executive power, but they do wield great influence over the cultural missions and institutions of the federal government.
Instead, Biden may face substantial opposition from some of these groups, which could derail his cultural efforts.
It is within this underbelly of the federal government where Trump’s legacy will truly be kept alive and have influence for years to come.
Democrats may have control over the presidency and both houses of Congress, but they do not rule the federal government with absolute authority.
Perhaps, historians may someday use these last-minute appointments to evaluate Trump’s legacy — which could have been impossible otherwise.