Presidential races

Trump soothes the right with list of Supreme Court picks

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Donald Trump on Wednesday released a list of 11 judges he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court, a step intended to reassure Republicans of his conservative bona fides. 

The list includes several judges often found on conservative wish lists, including Diane Sykes, William Pryor and Joan Larsen. Several of the judges were appointed by President George W. Bush, and many serve on state supreme courts.

{mosads}In what some interpreted as a snub, the list does not include Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Trump’s bitter foe during the presidential primary race, or Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who endorsed Cruz. Both lawmakers had been floated in Washington as potential nominees.

Still, early reaction from congressional Republicans was positive, with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-­Iowa) praising the presumptive GOP presidential nominee as having put forward an “impressive list of highly qualified jurists.” 

“Understanding the types of judges a presidential nominee would select for the Supreme Court is an important step in this debate so the American people can have a voice in the direction of the Supreme Court for the next generation,” he said. 

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the second-ranking Republican in the upper chamber, said Trump made a “smart move” releasing the names.

“It’s reassuring for conservatives to know what he’ll be looking for were he elected president,” Cornyn told CNN. 

“Obviously, he’s never been in a position to make appointments like a governor and others who have been in an executive position. He’s been a businessman, and so I think this does provide some reassurance, and conservatives will find it encouraging.”

The warm reception to Trump’s unprecedented move to release such a list provided yet another sign that Republicans are setting aside their doubts to rally behind Trump’s candidacy for the general election.

During the primary process, Cruz and others assailed Trump over the Supreme Court, suggesting he couldn’t be trusted to appoint a true conservative due to his past support for Democrats and abortion rights. 

The issue took on added urgency after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, who had been a fixture of the court’s conservative wing.

Seeking to counter those attacks, Trump in March promised he would release a list of potential Supreme Court nominees. He consulted with the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, to come up with the names. 

Court watchers say the candidates floated by Trump all have one big thing in common: an “originalist” view of the Constitution, an approach Scalia took during his time on the court. 

“These are people who share a common concern for approaching the Constitution as written, not making it up as you go along,” said Shannen Coffin, who served as counsel to former Vice President Dick Cheney. “They wouldn’t be imposing their own judgments on interpretations.” 

Appellate judges Sykes and Pryor, two names previously floated by Trump as model jurists, are both on the list. So is Utah Supreme Court Judge Thomas Lee, the brother of Sen. Mike Lee and the son of Rex Lee, a former U.S. solicitor general during the Reagan administration.

Other judges mentioned include Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, David Stras of Minnesota, Steven Colloton of Iowa, Allison Eid of Colorado and Raymond Gruender of Missouri. 

Several of the judges are prominent.

Sykes is the ex-wife of Charles Sykes, a Wisconsin conservative radio host who helped lead the anti-Trump charge ahead of his state’s primary. Pryor, the former Alabama attorney general, is an outspoken critic of the Roe v. Wade decision that enshrined abortion rights. 

Larsen, a judge on the Michigan Supreme Court, is a former law clerk for Scalia. 

The list even includes one of Trump’s Twitter critics: Don Willett, a member of the Texas Supreme Court. 

Willett has compared Trump to “Star Wars” villain Darth Vader and last summer tweeted that the businessman being allowed to name a Supreme Court justice was unthinkable.

“Donald Trump haiku— Who would the Donald Name to #SCOTUS? The mind reels. *weeps—can’t finish tweet*” Willett tweeted. 

Coffin, who is now a partner at the D.C. law firm Steptoe & Johnson, noted that many of Trump’s picks are relatively young, at least for judges. Age is an important consideration for Supreme Court nominees, because they are up for a lifetime appointment.

“We’re talking about intelligent, highly qualified individuals with a judicial approach that is more restrained and more faithful to the text of the Constitution and statutes,” Coffin said. 

Many of Trump’s picks would be a departure for the court.

While nearly all of the eight justices now serving graduated from Yale, Harvard or Columbia Law School, only one judge on Trump’s shortlist earned their law degree from one those schools: Colloton, who went to Yale.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director to the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, said it was heartening to see so many Midwesterners and state court judges on Trump’s list.   

“They would bring a valuable perspective to the bench, particularly since they have already served on a court of last resort in their own states,” she said. “This list ought to be encouraging to anyone who prioritizes the rule of law.”

Liberal groups slammed the list and were quick to criticize its lack of diversity.

“I think it’s quite interesting that all 11 picks are white and almost all of them are men,” said Michele Jawando, vice president for legal progress at the liberal Center for American Progress. “When you juxtapose that with President Obama, who has appointed more diverse judges than anyone in history, I think that is a huge distinction.” 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest panned Trump’s selections, saying no one floated by Trump would be a “consensus nominee” to the court — President Obama’s term for Judge Merrick Garland, his nominee to replace Scalia. 

Republicans have refused to hold hearings for Garland, arguing that the next president should fill the vacancy. 

Democrats pounced on that position earlier this year to argue Republicans wanted the vacancy filled by Trump, but GOP lawmakers are increasingly comfortable with that scenario. 

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a Trump supporter, called the list of potential nominees “fabulous” on Fox News. 

“All of those who, like myself, believe that justices should interpret the Constitution, follow the Constitution and serve under the Constitution are going to like this list of highly competent scholars and justices.”

Updated at 8:04 p.m.

Tags Chuck Grassley Donald Trump Jeff Sessions John Cornyn Mike Lee Ted Cruz
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