After President Barack Obama wins confirmation of his first Supreme Court nominee, the Court will still lean conservative. And it will still decide only a handful of cases each year. The lower courts, in contrast, will have the final word in more than 99 percent of federal cases. These courts are up for grabs, and Obama’s impact on them could be sweeping. Indeed, Obama may be able to completely reshape a conservative-dominated judiciary to one largely controlled by Democratic appointees — even in a single term.

Conservatives hold sway on nearly all of the 12 federal appellate courts. For example, Republican appointees hold a 6-3 majority on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — the important court on which Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sat before their elevations to the Supreme Court. Republican appointees also control the 5th Circuit (13-4), 6th Circuit (9-6) (counting Judge Helene White as a Democratic appointee), 7th Circuit (7-3), 8th Circuit (9-2), 10th Circuit (8-4), and 11th Circuit (7-4). In total, Republican appointees have an 88-61 advantage on the appellate courts.

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