Judge on Trump shortlist boasts stint on Michigan's high court

Judge on Trump shortlist boasts stint on Michigan's high court
© Getty

If Judge Joan Larsen ascends to the Supreme Court, she’ll bring something unique among the names on President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE's shortlist: experience on a state supreme court.

Unlike the other federal judges in the mix to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, Larsen is the only one to have served on a state's highest court. None of the current sitting justices have served on a state high court either.

She also has experience running for office, as judges for the Michigan Supreme Court are elected by voters. That could give Larsen a prominent voice on the nation's highest court on issues of campaign finance and voting laws.

“There are so many cases that come forth about the contours of free speech and political donations,” said constitutional law expert John Shu. “Having been a politician herself, even a judicial politician, I think she has a unique and very valuable view that other potential nominees don’t have.”


Larsen, 49, now sits on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and has built an impressive legal résumé with strong conservative ties.

Larsen received her law degree from Northwestern University and clerked for former Justice Antonin Scalia. She went on to teach at the University of Michigan law school before joining the George W. Bush administration as deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice.

That stint could lead to some tough questions from Democrats.

Larsen worked in the Office of Legal Counsel when the Justice Department was working on memos related to waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques.

Larsen says she did not work on those memos, but she can expect questions about the Bush administration's record and her tenure there.

When Bush left office, Larsen returned to the University of Michigan. She was later appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to the state Supreme Court in late 2015 to replace a retiring judge. State law required her to run in an election to finish the last years of her term.

Larsen handily won election but her stint on Michigan's highest court was cut short when she was tapped by Trump to the 6th Circuit in May 2017.

Her confirmation was held up for months, however, by Democratic Michigan Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowMichigan Republican John James 'strongly considering' House run Updated reconciliation text includes electric vehicle tax credit opposed by Manchin Stabenow calls for expansion of school mental health services MORE and Gary PetersGary PetersMichigan Republican John James 'strongly considering' House run Officials point to Apache vulnerability in urging passage of cyber incident reporting bill US concerns grow over potential Russian cyber targeting of Ukraine amid troop buildup MORE.

She also faced questions about a column she wrote in 2006 arguing that Bush could disregard a congressional law prohibiting torture.

In the end, Larsen was confirmed with the support of eight Democratic senators, including both from Michigan, in a 60-38 vote. Also voting for her were Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden to have audience with pope, attend G20 summit Biden taps former Indiana Sen. Donnelly as ambassador to Vatican Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHarry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies Virginia loss lays bare Democrats' struggle with rural voters Washington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate Democrats eye talking filibuster NAACP president presses senators on voting rights: 'You will decide who defines America' Schumer tees up showdown on voting rights, filibuster MORE (W.Va.), all Democrats up for reelection this year in states that Trump won in 2016.

But that jostling between jobs means Larsen has left little by way of a judicial paper trail.

She will have completed less than one year as a federal judge if nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court ahead of November’s midterm election.

That could be an advantage for Larsen in confirmation hearings, where opponents could struggle to find contentious rulings to highlight. But it could also leave her exposed to charges that she does not have enough experience.

It could also hurt Larsen as Trump and Republicans are aiming for a judge they believe will be a surefire conservative vote on key issues.

Another issue likely to draw attention from Democrats: Larsen's comments on the 2003 Supreme Court case that struck down laws against consensual sex between same-sex couples. 

Larsen called the rationale behind the decision “revolutionary" and questioned its references to foreign and international law, according to a profile on SCOTUSblog, a website covering the Supreme Court.

Larsen is not seen as a likely pick, though, with Trump reportedly narrowing his list to three other appeals court judges: Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Raymond Kethledge.