Donald Trump’s new list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees has something for everyone — except maybe the Washington establishment.
The conservative-dominated list of 10, issued Friday to supplement 11 names he released in May, offers at least the appearance of ethnic diversity and draws heavily from states likely to be pivotal in the November election. It taps into state and military courts not known for producing Supreme Court justices. It includes Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah — an ally of Senator Ted Cruz, Trump’s former rival for the Republican nomination.
The list omits two of the biggest conservative names in Washington legal circles: federal appellate judge Brett Kavanaugh, who served in President George W. Bush’s administration, and Paul Clement, who served as Bush’s solicitor general and later argued the first high court case against Obamacare in 2012. The list also excludes women for the most part, adding just one female name and giving Trump only four women on his full list of 21.
"This list is definitive and I will choose only from it in picking future justices of the United States Supreme Court," Trump said his statement Friday. The court has a seven-month-old vacancy since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, and three current justices are at least 78.
When Trump released his first list of generally conservative candidates in May, he said it was merely an indication of the type of people he would appoint. That disclaimer, combined with Trump’s shifts on other issues, left many legal conservatives wondering how much they could rely on him when it comes to judicial nominees.
‘Some good names’
Jonathan Adler, a law professor and architect of a second lawsuit that sought to cripple Obamacare, said he still doesn’t plan to support Trump despite the updated list.
"There are some good names there, but it doesn’t really change anything for me," Adler, who has said he doesn’t trust Trump to follow through on his promises, said in an email. "Also interesting that prominent DC figures” are absent, including Kavanaugh and Clement, he said.
The most prominent new name is Lee, a staunch conservative who is Cruz’s closest legislative ally and who has refused to endorse Trump.
The list also includes two Republican-appointed judges on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Neil Gorsuch and Timothy Tymkovich. Gorsuch, 49, was a classmate of President Barack Obama at Harvard Law School, and his name circulated as a potential Supreme Court pick even before Trump captured the Republican nomination.
Other prospective nominees have the look of longshots, or at least of unconventional selections. They include Margaret A. Ryan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces; Edward Mansfield of the Iowa Supreme Court; Keith Blackwell of the Georgia Supreme Court; Robert Young of the Michigan Supreme Court; and Charles Canady, a onetime U.S. congressman now on the Florida Supreme Court.
No sitting state judge has been nominated to the Supreme Court since Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981.
Trump’s new list also includes two federal trial judges: Kentucky’s Amul Thapar, the first South Asian ever to serve as a U.S. district judge, and Miami’s Federico Moreno, a Hispanic born in Caracas. Presidents almost never elevate judges from the trial court level directly to the Supreme Court.
The ages of some of the people raise questions about their plausibility as nominees. Moreno and Young, who is black, are both in their mid-60s.
‘Core’ of country
Beyond the credentials are lingering questions about how committed Trump would be to ensuring that a judicial conservative fills Scalia’s seat. Trump said Friday his list of candidates "are the kind of scholars that we need to preserve the very core of our country."
"How much personal capital he would invest in judicial nominations?" Clint Bolick, a Arizona Supreme Court justice with libertarian roots, said to reporters last week. "It’s really, really hard to say."
Referring to Trump’s book, he added, "Is it a matter of principle and heart and soul, or is it ‘The Art of the Deal’?"