WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump, who counts his two Supreme Court appointments as among his greatest successes, last week issued a new list of 20 potential nominees to the court. There was no vacancy at the time, and the exercise seemed aimed at focusing attention on an issue that had helped secure his election in 2016.
With the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, the list has become the subject of intense interest.
In 2016, similar lists helped persuade wary conservatives to support his unconventional candidacy, particularly because the death of Justice Antonin Scalia that February had created a vacancy. That the new list, which included three senators and two former solicitors general, was issued when there was no vacancy suggested that the move had political aims.
Trump now has about 40 potential nominees to choose among. Before listing the new candidates last week, he singled out three judges from earlier lists who are widely believed to remain front-runners: Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago; Thomas M. Hardiman of the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia; and William H. Pryor Jr. of the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta.
The new list included three Republican senators: Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Over the nation’s history, it was not unusual for sitting senators to be named to the Supreme Court, though it has been almost half a century since a former senator sat on the court.
Hawley said last week that he had told the president he was not interested in the job. “My principal role in this process, this latest process, was to state where I will begin with judicial nominees, which is asking where they are on Roe vs. Wade,” he said, referring to the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.
“Roe v. Wade,” Hawley said, “is a window into a judge’s judicial philosophy.”
Cotton, for his part, made his position clear last week shortly after Trump spoke. “It’s time for Roe v. Wade to go,” he wrote on Twitter.
Cruz, also writing on Twitter, said he was honored to be considered. He later said he was not interested.
The new list included lawyers who had worked at the White House and in the Justice Department, notably Noel J. Francisco, who recently stepped down as solicitor general, having defended many of Trump’s policies and programs before the justices; Paul D. Clement, who served as solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration; Steven Engel, a Justice Department official; and Kate Todd, a White House lawyer.
Trump promised that if another vacancy appeared on the Supreme Court, “My nominee will come from the names I have shared with the American public.”
The list also included a number of federal appeals court judges: Bridget Shelton Bade and Lawrence J.C. VanDyke of the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco; Stuart Kyle Duncan and James C. Ho of the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans; Allison Jones Rushing of the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Virginia; Gregory G. Katsas of the District of Columbia Circuit; Barbara Lagoa of the 11th Circuit; and Peter J. Phipps of the 3rd Circuit.
All of his candidates, Trump said, were judicial conservatives in the mold of Scalia and two current members of the court, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
Trump’s lists, compiled with the help of conservative legal groups, have long been fluid. The first one, issued in May 2016, did not include Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first appointee, who was first named on a second list issued that September.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s second appointee, did not appear on either list and was not included until a third one was issued in 2017. Kavanaugh succeeded Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in 2018.
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