Trump adds conservative senators Cruz, Cotton and Hawley to his Supreme Court list

The three Republicans have been the most vocal critics of the high court decisions in the past few months

Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., right, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Feb. 7, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., right, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Feb. 7, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 9, 2020 at 6:05pm

President Donald Trump added a new slate of names Wednesday to his list of potential picks for any future Supreme Court vacancy, including three Republican senators who have been the most vocal critics of the high court decisions in the past few months.

Trump’s announcement of 20 new names basically doubled his existing list, which he started in 2016. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was among those who credited the move with giving conservative voters who focus on abortion and gun rights a reason to back his candidacy.

This time, Trump used the list to highlight what he might do if he gets a chance in a second term, and to draw a distinction between him and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Trump was the first presidential candidate to release such a list, and he said Biden should also do so.

“Joe Biden has refused to release his list perhaps because he knows the names are so extremely far left that they could never withstand public scrutiny, or receive acceptance,” Trump said at the White House announcement. “He must release a list of justices for people to properly make a decision as to how they will vote.”

Trump’s inclusion of Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas is part of a signal that his next appointment would be even more conservative than his two appointments of Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Hawley, a former clerk for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and a member of the Judiciary Committee, took to the Senate floor in July to say he would only vote to confirm Supreme Court nominees who say the court got it wrong in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.

That speech came after Roberts joined the liberal wing of the court in a 5-4 decision in June to strike down a Louisiana law to regulate abortion clinics as too similar to a Texas law the court had ended just four years earlier. Hawley, in a tweet just after Trump revealed he was on the potential Supreme Court list, said he appreciated the nod but has “no interest” in leaving the Senate.

Cotton, a Harvard Law School graduate, said in a news release that he was honored to be on the list.

“The Supreme Court could use some more justices who understand the difference between applying the law and making the law, which the Court does when it invents a right to an abortion, infringes on religious freedom, and erodes the Second Amendment,” the Arkansas Republican said.

In a tweet, Cotton added: “It’s time for Roe v. Wade to go.”

Cruz, who has argued before the Supreme Court, criticized on the Senate floor the high court decision that rejected the Trump administration’s push to end an Obama-era program that gives nearly 700,000 so-called Dreamers the ability to work in the United States and avoid deportation. He called it “lawless” and “disgraceful” and said Roberts joining the liberals on the court “is becoming a pattern.”

Cruz, in a news release, said he was grateful for being included on the list and is proud as a member of the Judiciary Committee to help confirm to the bench over 200 of Trump’s judicial nominees, including Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.

Trump had released such a list in the 2016 election after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and Senate Republicans’ refusal to start the confirmation process for President Barack Obama’s nominee.

This election, there is no vacancy on the Supreme Court, where the conservative wing has a 5-4 advantage. But two members of the court’s liberal wing are over 80. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 87 years old and has been undergoing treatment for liver cancer, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer is 82 years old.

Filling either of those seats with a relatively young, consistently conservative justice would further solidify the court’s conservative tilt, and that could mean big changes in health care, gun control laws, access to abortion and more.

And Trump recited a list of what might happen if “a growing radical left movement” got a majority on the high court that hit on consistently Republican principles.

“Radical justices will erase the Second Amendment, silence political speech and require taxpayers to fund extreme late-term abortion,” he said. “They will give unelected bureaucrats the power to destroy millions of American jobs.

“They will remove the words ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance. They will unilaterally declare the death penalty unconstitutional, even for the most depraved mass murderers,” Trump continued. “They will erase national borders, cripple police departments and grant new protections to anarchists, rioters, violent criminals and terrorists.”

Trump said his pick would be in the mold of Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas, who are on the far conservative side of the court. Alito is 70 and Thomas is 72, prompting some light speculation about their retirement plans.

“Over the next four years, America’s president will choose hundreds of federal judges and, in all likelihood, one, two, three, and even four Supreme Court justices,” Trump said.

Conservative advocacy groups such as the Article III Project praised the list and announced a digital ad campaign on the issue. But there are signs that Democratic voters are as energized about judicial nominations as Republicans, who have traditionally cared more deeply about the courts.

In a June poll from the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of Biden supporters said Supreme Court appointments were “very important” to their 2020 vote, compared with 61 percent of Trump supporters.

Demand Justice, a liberal advocacy group that focuses on judicial nominations, said it will use Trump’s announcement of the Supreme Court list in an ad campaign targeting the swing states of Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“This gambit may have paid off for Trump in 2016, but the politics are different this time around,” Brian Fallon, the group’s executive director, said in a news release. “For every base conservative activist that is excited by this new Trump shortlist, there is likely to be a swing voter that will be turned off by the prospect of a Trump supermajority on the Supreme Court.”