The accession of Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1981 stimulated a bevy of young, conservative Republican law students to establish the Federalist Society. Many of those original Federalists found their way into the George W. Bush and Trump White Houses where they have exercised enormous influence over policy formulation. Nowhere more so than with respect to federal judicial appointments to the U.S. District Courts, Courts of Appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court. Today, almost 40 years later, the Federalists have largely taken over complete control of federal judicial appointments. They have successfully transformed the Supreme Court from pragmatic progressivism in line with the arc of history toward greater inclusivity to staunchly ideological right-wing conservatism.

Initially, issues like abortion and school prayer energized the Right. The Federalists spent the intervening decades carefully studying Supreme Court dissents and exploiting them to craft legal arguments that resulted in landmark decisions emasculating the Voting Rights Act and enabling voter suppression, reinterpreting the Second Amendment to unearth an individual right to bear arms, and opening the floodgates to corporate money supporting the election of Republican candidates, among other cases advantageous to their ideology.

Meanwhile, Democrats paid scant attention to what was happening in the courts. As a result, they now find themselves and their Democratic — and democratic — ideals completely routed when it comes to the Third Branch. Five of the current nine Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican presidents. Of the four Democratic appointees, two are octogenarians whose days on the Court are numbered. The average age of the five Republican justices is only 61. It is conceivable that every one of them will serve at least ten more years.

Republicans now also dominate among federal Appeals and District Court judges, thanks to Trump’s many appointments and a compliant Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has spent a career focusing laser-like on turning the judiciary red. Most of these appointees were put on their respective courts by either George W. Bush or Donald Trump and are in their 40s or 50s. Consequently, Republican judicial dominance is destined to last for a generation.

Democrats for the last 40 years have exhibited a disturbing inattention to the critical importance of the courts. They directed almost all of their energy and resources to winning the presidency, with only an occasional effort (see 2018) to prevail in congressional elections. State legislative contests were also largely ignored. Concern for judicial appointments? Nonexistent.

This has been and is a huge mistake. Dems have also fallen far short in educating their base on the importance of sympathetic judges.

While it is too late to do anything about the current redirection of the federal courts toward the hard right, Democrats should take a page from the conservative playbook and think strategically about the future. They need their own version of a group that devotes virtually all of its attention to judicial appointments. Give it a catchy name (the Jefferson Group?). It will likely take decades for its objectives to bear judicial fruit, but it is critical for the party to think long-term about bringing the courts back toward the pragmatic center.

Canandaigua Academy graduate Richard Hermann is a law professor, legal blogger, author of seven books and part-time resident of the Finger Lakes.