What would the U.S. Supreme Court look like after President Donald Trump?
The presumptive Republican nominee released the names of 11 judges he would consider appointing to the high court on Wednesday, an unprecedented move in American presidential politics aimed at quelling conservative fears about his potential imprint on the federal judiciary.
Among the names are six federal appeals judges: Thomas Hardiman of the Third Circuit, Raymond Kethledge of the Sixth Circuit, Diane Sykes of the Seventh Circuit, Steven Colloton and Raymond Gruender of the Eighth Circuit, and William Pryor of the Eleventh Circuit.
Trump also named five state supreme court judges: Allison Eid of Colorado, Joan Larsen of Michigan, Thomas Lee of Utah, David Stras of Minnesota, and Don Willett of Texas. Nominating a state judge would break with a recent bipartisan preference for the federal bench. All of the current Supreme Court justices except Elena Kagan served on a federal appeals court before joining the Court.
Collectively, the list underscores some of the more homogenous aspects of the current Court. None of Trump’s nominees hail from the Northeast; five of the current justices grew up in either New York or New Jersey. None of them obtained their law degrees from Ivy League schools; all of the current justices received theirs from Harvard or Yale. Thomas Lee, whose brother Mike represents Utah in the U.S. Senate, would also be the first Mormon justice.
But the list is also, in other ways, less reflective of the country than the eight justices already serving on the Court. Only two of Trump’s potential nominees are women, for example. All of them are white.
Releasing the shortlist is an unprecedented move by an unprecedented candidate. Trump previously described himself as pro-choice and supported gun-control measures. He also had a habit of defying conservative orthodoxy during the primaries. As his nomination gathered strength, conservative legal thinkers feared his judicial nominees would follow a similar trend.
The death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February—and the possibility of five liberal justices if Obama or Clinton chose his successor—also placed the Supreme Court’s future at the front of the presidential race. President Obama nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit to fill the vacancy, while Senate Republicans vowed to block any nomination until the next president is elected.
Hours after Scalia’s death was announced, Trump mentioned Pryor and Sykes as potential nominees to fill his seat on the Court during a Republican debate. In a nod to conservative fears, Trump also said in March he would release a full shortlist after consulting with conservative think-tanks on possible nominees. In March, the Heritage Foundation, one of the organizations Trump cited, listed eight “highly qualified, principled individuals” to replace Scalia. Five of them—Pryor, Sykes, Colloton, Gruender, and Willet—were on Trump’s list today.
Even a cursory glance at the list should put Republican fears of a moderate or liberal Trump nominee at ease. All of the federal judges are George W. Bush nominees, and most of the state judges appear to have conservative legal histories. Some have even attracted criticism from Democrats and liberal groups in the past, including Pryor, who once called Roe v. Wade “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.”
Willett is perhaps the most well known of the potential nominees, thanks to his popular and unusual Twitter presence. In a June 2015 tweet, Willett appeared to mock the idea of Trump nominating the next Supreme Court justice.
Also noteworthy are some of Trump’s omissions. Paul Clement, a former solicitor general under George W. Bush who still frequently argues before the Court, and D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh were widely thought to be top prospects for the next Republican president. But neither of their names appeared on Wednesday’s list.
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