Realists on the Right have tried to rally dispirited conservatives to support Donald Trump with this mantra: “Do you want Hillary Clinton to appoint the next four Supreme Court justices?” Skeptics have wondered whether Trump would actually do any better, although it’s almost certain he could do no worse. Today, the Trump campaign moved to bolster the unity argument by releasing the names of eleven potential nominees to the high court, which included at least one familiar name:
The list of conservative federal and state judges includes Steven Colloton of Iowa, Allison Eid of Colorado and Raymond Gruender of Missouri.
Also on the list are: 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. Trump had previously named Pryor and Sykes as examples of kind of justices he would choose.
In the press release, Trump cited the late Justice Antonin Scalia as his inspiration for making these selections:
Mr. Trump stated, “Justice Scalia was a remarkable person and a brilliant Supreme Court Justice. His career was defined by his reverence for the Constitution and his legacy of protecting Americans’ most cherished freedoms. He was a Justice who did not believe in legislating from the bench and he is a person whom I held in the highest regard and will always greatly respect his intelligence and conviction to uphold the Constitution of our country. The following list of potential Supreme Court justices is representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value and, as President, I plan to use this list as a guide to nominate our next United States Supreme Court Justices.”
Pryor’s appearance on the list will be notable to anyone who recalls the judicial-appointments battle of 2004-5. George W. Bush appointed Pryor to the Eleventh Circuit, but had his nomination filibustered by some of the same people now lecturing Republicans about Merrick Garland — especially Harry Reid, then as now Senate Minority Leader. With Pryor’s status as a young conservative jurist, Democrats clearly worried that a confirmation would lead to a later Supreme Court nomination. Bush used a recess appointment to get him on the federal bench at the district court level, and then Senate Republicans finally got Pryor a floor vote for confirmation as part of the Gang of Fifteen deal in 2005.
Pryor’s not alone in notability, either. Diane Sykes is the former spouse of popular Wisconsin conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, who interviewed Trump while declaring his #NeverTrump status. Don Willett serves on the Texas Supreme Court, but may be better known for his engagement on Twitter, offering humorous asides and conservative commentary as well as glimpses of his family life. Willett has had quite a bit of fun at Trump’s expense on Twitter over the past year, so perhaps he might end up ranked toward the end of this list if President Trump holds grudges.
Thus far, the list has received high marks from conservative observers. Senate Judiciary chair Charles Grassley calls it “impressive“:
“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,” Grassley released in a statement. “Understanding the types of judges a presidential nominee would select for the Supreme Court is an important step in this debate so the American people can have a voice in the direction of the Supreme Court for the next generation.”
Trump even garners praise at National Review, which has staunchly opposed his nomination. John Yoo argues that perhaps Trump knows how to unite the Right after all:
I still don’t believe Trump is a conservative on domestic policy or responsible enough to lead our nation’s foreign policy. But he may be starting to unify the party with the right moves — if his list of potential appointments to the Supreme Court is any sign.
Everyone on the list is an outstanding legal conservative. All are young, smart, and committed. They would excel in any comparison with anyone whom Hillary Clinton would appoint to the Supreme Court. Several of the possibilities, such as Tom Lee of Utah, Allison Eid of Colorado, and David Stras of Minnesota, are former law clerks of Justice Clarence Thomas, while others, such as Steve Colloton of Iowa and Joan Larsen of Michigan, clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia. They are joined by other well-known judicial conservatives, such as Diane Sykes, Don Willet, Ray Kethledge, and Bill Pryor.
These names are a Federalist Society all-star list of conservative jurisprudence. In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that I count several of them as colleagues and friends. It is a good sign that, on one of a president’s most important decisions, Trump clearly turned to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation for advice.
Could this accelerate the healing within the GOP? We’ll see. In part, the potential for this to work will only go as far as conservatives will trust Trump to stick to these nominees, rather than bend to Democrats’ demands that he agree on compromise candidates. The best way to keep that from happening is to ensure that Republicans hold the Senate.