Trump Goes Conventional With Conservative Supreme Court List

Will Trump’s Supreme List Pass Muster With Conservatives?
  • List of 11 candidates soothes Republican concerns over vacancy
  • Billionaire calls selections ‘guide’ for filling Scalia seat

The unconventional Donald Trump turns out to be a pretty typical Republican when it comes to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump took a step toward reassuring his party’s base about how he would shape the nation’s highest court as he released a list of 11 possible nominees to fill the seat that has been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia’s Feb. 13 death. 

All 11 have solid conservative credentials. Each is a judge appointed by a Republican, several clerked for conservative Supreme Court justices, and one provoked a bitter two-year battle with Democrats when he was nominated to a federal appeals court. 

Five were on a recent list issued by the conservative Heritage Foundation. All but one are younger than 55, and all 11 are white, a trait sure to open Trump to criticism but in keeping with the record of a party that has nominated only one ethnic minority to the high court.

In short, though Trump only said the list is a "guide," most of the 11 would have been at least plausible Supreme Court nominees under almost any Republican president -- particularly to replace Scalia, a conservative icon praised by Trump Wednesday.

"Justice Scalia was a remarkable person and brilliant Supreme Court justice," Trump said in a statement. "His career was defined by his reverence for the Constitution and his legacy of protecting Americans."

U.S. Heartland

In perhaps the biggest deviation from orthodoxy, the list tilts heavily toward the country’s heartland and the Rust Belt states that Trump hopes to turn into battlegrounds for the November election. None of the 11 works on the East Coast, five serve on state supreme courts, and only one graduated from an Ivy League law school.

By contrast, seven of the eight current justices had jobs in the Washington-to-Boston corridor when they were named to the nation’s highest court. All eight justices are Ivy League law school graduates.

Trump said he compiled with input from conservatives and Republican leaders.

Among Trump’s candidates are Judge William Pryor of Alabama, whose nomination by President George W. Bush to a federal appeals court sparked a two-year partisan battle before his confirmation in 2005. Democrats argued he was hostile to reproductive freedom, pointing to his description of the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling as the "worst abomination" of constitutional law in the nation’s history.

Willett’s Tweets

Another is Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, perhaps best known for his colorful postings on Twitter, including one last year that said, "Who would the Donald Name to #SCOTUS? The mind reels. *weeps—can’t finish tweet*"

Also named are federal appellate judges Steven Colloton of Iowa, Raymond Gruender of Missouri, Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, Raymond Kethledge of Michigan and Diane Sykes of Wisconsin. The other state supreme court justices are Allison Eid of Colorado, Joan Larsen of Michigan, Thomas Lee of Utah and David Stras of Minnesota.

The court has been operating shorthanded since Scalia’s death. President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the seat, but Senate Republicans have refused to take up the nomination, saying the next president should fill the seat.

Some conservatives said they were reassured by Trump’s apparent plans for the vacancy, while liberal groups expressed alarm.

"The names on this list would need to be vetted, obviously, but they all seem to share in common a record of putting the law and the Constitution ahead of their political preferences," said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network and a leading critic of the Garland nomination.

‘Worst Nightmare’

"Donald Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees are a woman’s worst nightmare," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion-rights group. "Their records reveal a lineup of individuals who would likely overturn Roe v. Wade if given the chance, gutting what’s left of abortion access in this country and heaping punishment on women."

Among the prominent names not on the list are Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a former Supreme Court clerk who was Trump’s chief rival for the Republican nomination; former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who argued the 2012 case against Obamacare before the Supreme Court; and Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the federal appeals court in Washington.

Colloton’s inclusion drew praise from a fellow Iowan, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley.

Rehnquist’s Clerk

"If we had a Republican president and there wasn’t such a list, I would suggest that Judge Colloton is the sort of person we ought to have on the Supreme Court," Grassley said. He pointed to Colloton’s clerkship for the late conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday that even Republicans once described Garland as a potential "consensus nominee," though that was before Obama selected him for the Scalia vacancy.

"I would be surprised if there’s any Democrats who would describe any of those 11 individuals as a consensus nominee," Earnest said.

The stalemate over the Supreme Court vacancy and Obama’s Garland nomination has become a rallying point for both parties. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has called it a “make or break moment.”

“In a single term, the Supreme Court could demolish pillars of the progressive movement,” she said during a campaign stop in March.

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