WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday unveiled a list of potential nominees – including three sitting U.S. senators – to fill any future Supreme Court vacancies in a move aimed at bolstering support among conservative voters ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
At a White House event, Trump announced a list of 20 potential justices, saying they all would preserve America’s “founding principles.” The Republican president also urged his Democratic election rival, Joe Biden, to release his own list.
Trump’s list included Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Hawley told reporters he had told Trump he was “not interested in the job.”
Most of the names on the new list are judges whom Trump already has appointed to lower federal courts.
Others include: Noel Francisco, who served until recently as the Trump administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer; Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s attorney general; and Paul Clement, the top Supreme Court lawyer under former Republican President George W. Bush and now one of the most prominent private attorneys who argues cases before the justices.
A senior administration official told Reuters that Trump had sought people from a diverse area of the country – 13 states plus Washington, D.C. – along with a diversity of originating law schools for the people on the new list, and noted that women and minorities made up 11 names on the list.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 conservative majority includes two justices appointed by Trump. His release of a new list – names added to another roster he issued earlier in his presidency – was aimed at reassuring conservatives and generating enthusiasm among them ahead of the election. It brought to 44 the number of different potential nominees Trump has said he would consider.
If a vacancy emerges soon, the favorites likely would be some of those on Trump’s previous list, including Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
AN AGING BENCH
An additional vacancy could enable Trump to move the court further to the right.
Four of the nine justices are age 70 or older: liberals Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, and Stephen Breyer, 82, and conservatives Clarence Thomas, 72, and Samuel Alito, 70. Ginsburg has experienced recurring health problems.
Supreme Court justices, who receive lifetime appointments, play an enormous role in shaping U.S. policies on hot-button issues such as abortion, LGBT rights, gun rights, religious liberty, the death penalty and presidential powers.
If Ginsburg or Breyer were to step down and Trump was able to appoint a successor, the court would have a rock-solid 6-3 conservative majority – or even a 7-2 advantage if both were replaced.
That could deliver changes long sought by conservatives such as overturning the court’s landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The court would also be a conservative bulwark should liberal Democrats in the future have the votes to pass sweeping legislation on such issues as climate change and healthcare.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer slammed Trump’s list of possible picks. “These radical nominees would continue the effort to reverse important progress America has made over the last 50 years on women’s reproductive freedom, strip away critical healthcare protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, and gut labor, environmental, and civil rights,” Schumer said in a statement.
Trump’s two appointees to the court were Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
Trump’s ability to appoint justices is reliant not just on him winning re-election but on Republicans retaining control of the U.S. Senate, which has the job of confirming federal judicial nominations. Under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate confirmation of Trump nominees to the federal judiciary has been a paramount priority.
As a candidate in 2016, Trump also unveiled a list of potential nominees in bid at the time to win over skeptical conservatives.
Trump and his allies have criticized conservative Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts sided this year with the court’s liberals in three high-profile rulings that backed LGBT worker rights, thwarted Trump’s bid to rescind protections for illegal immigrants dubbed “Dreamers” who entered the United States as children, and struck down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Lisa Lambert, Lawrence Hurley and Susan Cornwell; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)