WASHINGTON—Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump took a big step toward rallying GOP conservatives around his candidacy with his list of potential Supreme Court picks, a who’s-who list of legal conservatives which draws a sharp contrast to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
The Supreme Court became a front-burner issue in the 2016 election with the untimely passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, a legendary hero to constitutional conservatives and one of the most brilliant intellects ever to sit on the nation’s highest court. Scalia’s greatest legacy is his elevation of originalism: the judicial philosophy that the Constitution—like any law or legal text—should be interpreted only according to the original public meaning of its words.
Trump released his much-anticipated list of potential picks to succeed Justice Scalia on Wednesday, naming eleven individuals to replace the irreplaceable Scalia. They are:
- Diane Sykes, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
- Raymond Gruender, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
- Steven Colloton, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
- Raymond Kethledge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
- Thomas Hardiman, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
- William Pryor, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
- Thomas Lee, Utah Supreme Court
- Allison Eid, Colorado Supreme Court
- Joan Larsen, Michigan Supreme Court
- David Straus, Minnesota Supreme Court
- Don Willet, Texas Supreme Court
Each candidate is either a judge on a federal appeals court or a justice on a state supreme court, each with a long judicial record.
Judge Sykes, for example, has authored two of the greatest Second Amendment judicial opinions ever written, giving full force to a fundamental right enjoyed daily by almost 100 million Americans, one that is under constant attack by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. This former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice is also famed for authoring a decision blocking Obamacare’s abortion-pill mandate, and for defending the rights of Christian organizations on college campuses to uphold biblical teachings on sexual morality as a condition for membership.
Other federal judges on the list have also distinguished themselves. Pryor has been an outspoken critic on the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions and vast expansion of criminal rights beyond what the Bill of Rights requires, though he raised a serious flag with conservatives for joining a 2011 decision that has been used to advance the transgender agenda.
Hardiman dissented from an anti-gun Third Circuit decision, insisting that while the Constitution’s Framers understood that the Second Amendment could be abused, “States may not seek to reduce the danger by curtailing the right itself.”
Gruender voted to uphold a South Dakota informed-consent abortion law that required doctors to inform patients that “abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
The list could have been only slightly better. There are names that constitutional conservative legal experts would love to see added to the list, such as Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Mike Lee, and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement. But overall, conservatives should be extremely pleased with this lineup.
This list is all the more important because of which justice this list is seeking a replacement for: Scalia. Any right-of-center “good Republican” will not do. The nominee must be a forward-charging originalist.
In that regard, this list contains three former law clerks of perhaps the most consistent originalist in the history of the Supreme Court: Justice Clarence Thomas, who is actually more conservative than Justice Scalia, and whose recent speech at Hillsdale College sets the gold standard for constitutionalist judges. Straus, Eid, and Lee (the brother of originalist hero, Senator Mike Lee) all clerked for Thomas, who tries to carefully vet potential law clerks for sharing his principled commitment to originalism.
The list also contains diversity in terms of geography, religion, and life experience. As Carrie Severino—chief counsel at the Judicial Crisis Network and a former Thomas clerk—noted, “It is also heartening to see so many Midwesterners and state court judges on the list—they would bring a valuable perspective to the bench, particularly since they have already served on a court of last resort in their own states.”
Perhaps the most colorful candidate on this list is Justice Willet of Texas, who apparently shares Trump’s passion for Tweeting. These include Tweets poking fun at presidential candidates, including one ribbing Trump. It shows a picture of Star Wars’ Death Star, and reads, “We’ll rebuild the Death Star. It’ll be amazing, believe me. And the rebels will pay for it.”—Darth Trump.
Ironically, Willet may end up eating one of his Tweets in particular, expressing his own early skepticism of Trump by Tweeting, “Who would the Donald Name to #SCOTUS? The mind reels. *weeps—can’t finish tweet.*”
For naming Willet in particular, Trump deserves high marks, showing that he can act like a true head of state by overlooking personal slights made in the heat of a campaign to include the judge on this list.
“Donald Trump released a solid Supreme Court list,” Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, said responding to the list, including Willet. “This includes one of the greatest true-blue Reagan conservatives in America, Justice Don Willet, a man who has never flinched from defending every word in the U.S. Constitution. Trump took a big step toward unifying all Republicans behind him.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley seems to think so, responding to the list by saying, “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 in limited and subject to the Constitution and the rule law.”
Secretary Ken Blackwell, who serves on the boards of a host of conservative organizations, from the National Rifle Association to the Club for Growth, agreed with Grassley and Shackelford, adding, “For this election, “It’s the Court, Stupid,” paraphrasing James Carville’s pitch for Bill Clinton in the 1990s. “Trump’s list shows Americans that while Hillary promises a Court that will ignore and rewrite the Constitution to advance leftwing priorities, Trump is promising a Court that will uphold the Constitution as it is written.”
Trump may not have completely sold everyone yet. When he released the list, he said, “We’re either going to choose someone from this list, or people very close to it,” raising eyebrows among some skeptical conservatives. But most conservative experts have strongly endorsed the list and this move.
Donald Trump has drawn a sharp contrast from Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court, which for many conservatives is their top issue when selecting a president. Trump will only be able to act on this list if he becomes president, and he’s given conservatives a new reason to turn out for him in November.
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.