Amid the dramatic infighting, global feuds and impulsive tweets that marked the President’s first year, Trump, McConnell and a group of ambitious conservative lawyers set in motion an enormous effort to reshape the federal judiciary. Trump’s team helped get a record-breaking 12 appeals-court judges confirmed during his first year, four times as many as President Obama did in the same time frame. Trump has nominated roughly 80 federal judges, 24 of whom have already been confirmed by the Republican-led Senate. And he’s just getting started: Trump still has 139 open seats on the bench to fill, a number that has only grown since he became President. “We’re filling up the courts with really talented people who understand and read the Constitution for what it says,” Trump tells TIME. “It’s already having a tremendous impact. These appointments are going to be one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, we do.”
The judges Trump picked are on the whole smart, experienced and conservative. The American Bar Association evaluated 60 of them and rated 56 as qualified or well-qualified. They are mostly white and male, and several have spurred controversy with their comments about hot political and social debates. On the bench, their views will shape a sweeping array of issues. Conservative judges tend to be sympathetic to claims about gun rights, religious freedom and free speech. During his time on the 10th Circuit, for example, new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch ruled on a landmark case involving the craft-store chain Hobby Lobby, finding that it had a right not to provide birth-control coverage to employees for religious reasons. At the same time, the judges Trump’s team favors tend to be skeptical about abortion rights and workplace and environmental protections. Shortly after Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in October, she joined a decision refusing to rehear a workplace racial-segregation case.