Donald Trump on Wednesday released a list of 11 reliably conservative judges whom he said he would consider for his first Supreme Court nomination. All of them were appointed to prestigious courts at relatively young ages, and several possess the sort of experience in partisan or electoral politics that’s almost entirely absent on the high court today.
Six of the jurists that the presumptive GOP nominee mentioned were appointed by President George W. Bush to seats on the federal circuit courts of appeal. Five were confirmed by the Senate with minimal apparent controversy.
But the other, William H. Pryor Jr. , got his seat on the 11th circuit in 2005 only after one of the most bruising battles in the modern history of the partisan judicial wars. His confirmation came only after a last-minute deal, negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of 14, ushered several of Bush’s most politically polarizing nominees past persistent threats of Democratic filibusters. They derided Pryor at the time as a conservative extremist before he was confirmed 53 to 45.
But Pryor would bring something to the court that it has not had in more than a decade: The experience of someone who has won an election. Pryor was twice elected as Alabama’s attorney general as the successor to Jeff Sessions, who this year became the first GOP senator to endorse Trump’s presidential candidacy.
The last justice whoever won an election was Sandra Day O'Connor, an Arizona state senator before joining the court in 1981. She retired in 2005.
Two other appeals judges on the list, both now on the 8th Circuit, were once United States attorneys, a job that carries enormous workaday political pressures along with being the top federal prosecutor for a region. They are 53-year-old Steven Colloton in Iowa and 52-year-old Raymond Gruender in St. Louis.
The other federal judges are the 6th Circuit’s Raymond Kethledge , 49, who was once a senior attorney on the Senate Judiciary Committee staff; the 3rd Circuit’s Thomas Hardiman of Pittsburgh, 50, who came to the federal trial court in Pittsburgh when he was 37; and the 7th Circuit’s Diane Sykes , 58, a former justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Sykes is one of three women on Trump’s list. The others are Alison Eid , 51, who is an elected justice on the Colorado Supreme Court; and Joan Larsen of the Michigan Supreme Court, who spent time in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during its contentious period driving the Bush administration’s legal rationale for combating terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Thomas Lee , a justice on the Utah Supreme Court for the past six years, is the older brother of GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. The youngest person on Trump's roster is 41-year-old David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Everyone on the list is white, and all have some affiliation with the Federalist Society, arguably the most influential conservative legal group.
But the jurists represent some potential diversity for the court in another way: While all eight current justices attended law school at either Harvard or Yale, only one of Trump's 11 did so. Colloton went to Yale.
Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has been promising to release such a list since March, when his chief rival for the nomination at the time, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, declared Trump was not a true conservative and warned voters to beware of the sort of people he would nominate to the court.
Soon thereafter, Trump said he was consulting with the Heritage Foundation to formulate his list and promised to choose form it if elected
The court has had a vacancy since Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February, and Senate Republicans have pledged not to fill the seat until a new president is in office. President Barack Obama has nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the D.C. appeals court, for the position.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley , R-Iowa, who is helping to block Garland's path, said in a statement: "Mr. Trump has laid out an impressive list of highly qualified jurists, including Judge Colloton from Iowa, who understand and respect the fundamental principle that the role of the courts is limited and subject to the Constitution and the rule of law."
Advocacy groups on the left sounded as disdainful of the roster as GOP senators were effusive.
“A woman’s worst nightmare,” was the summation from Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “His vision appears to be turning the court into an ideological instrument instead of an arbiter of the bedrock values of our country — justice, freedom, and equality.