Donald Trump released a list of potential Supreme Court picks Wednesday following months of speculation over who he would nominate to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat should he win the presidency in November.
The list is widely seen as a strategy by Trump to placate the “movement conservatives” actively resisting his candidacy, by committing to place sufficiently right-wing justices on the court.
Trump has named a total of 11 possible candidates for the position, according to a list obtained by the Associated Press. Those candidates were: Steven Colloton of Iowa, Allison Eid of Colorado, Raymond Gruender of Missouri, Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, Joan Larsen of Michigan, Thomas Lee of Utah, William Pryor of Alabama, David Stras of Minnesota, Diane Sykes of Wisconsin and Don Willett of Texas.
Three of the candidates, Hardiman, Kethledge, and Pryor, were appointed to their seats by George W. Bush, a move that could be seen as an attempt to placate anti-Trump conservatives who claimed he was not really a conservative. Republican political donors and social conservatives who have so far been dismayed by Trump’s takeover of the party may hold their noses if he settles on an explicitly pro-life and pro-business pick.
Trump wasn’t always set on naming judges who could placate Republicans accusing him of being too liberal. Before Trump had to get serious about who he would nominate to the court — or, realistically, before he had to reassure conservative donors that he was really a Republican — infamous Trump surrogate Roger Stone said in March, “I can’t think of anybody who’d be a more fitting replacement for the late Judge Anton ‘Nino’ Scalia than [Fox News host and 9/11 truther] Judge Napolitano … I think that’s exactly the right spot for him.”
Trump also floated his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, who is a senior judge in the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. “I would love to,” he said during an interview on Bloomberg. “But I think she would be the one to say, ‘No way, no way.'”
Two of the judges currently on Trump’s list, Pryor and Sykes, were previously named as potential nominees, and their judicial records show they would be a peace offering to conservatives opposed to Trump. Pryor is a stridently pro-life candidate who said Roe v. Wade allowed for “a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.” He has also supported strict voter ID laws, which time and again have been proven to suppress the voting rights of minorities. Similarly, Sykes, the ex-wife of #NeverTrump radio host Charlie Sykes, penned a court decision that broadened religious objectors’ ability to deny women health coverage for contraceptives.
The National Review, a standard-bearing conservative publication home to many anti-Trump conservatives, is one in a chorus of conservative voices that have said Trump’s Supreme Court picks are just as important as his blatant nativism and racism.
“If there were a way to be absolutely certain that Trump would appoint two, three, or four Antonin Scalia clones during his presidency, a lot of Trump-skeptic conservatives might immediately see one giant reason to vote for him,” swrote Jim Geraghty on the magazine’s website yesterday. “If nothing else, they could rest easy knowing that the Second Amendment wouldn’t be effectively nullified or curtailed, that Citizens United would remain the law of the land, that voter-ID laws would be upheld, and that pro-lifers could continue to make progress in the courts.”
The Heritage Foundation, a right wing think connected to many deep-pocketed conservative donors, is said to have had a role in the list’s creation. Trump indicated in March that the think tank would have some role in picking his list, saying he had “authorized the Heritage Foundation to work on the list of names.”
Meanwhile, Trump has called upon Republicans to continue blocking Merrick Garland’s nomination hearing, ostensibly on the grounds that the next president should choose the ninth supreme court justice. “I don’t think so, no I think they should do what they’re doing,” said the likely Republican nominee on “Good Morning America.” “I think they should wait until the next president and let the next president pick.” He continued, “the ideal would be Scalia reincarnated.”
Landing on Trump’s list may have come as a surprise to at least one candidate. A year ago, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willet penned a revealing poem on Twitter: