Published 7:55 PM EDT Sep 9, 2020
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump unveiled a new list of 20 potential Supreme Court nominees Wednesday in an effort to energize the conservative legal movement and help his flagging reelection campaign.
The list, fashioned after those he put out during his 2016 race for the White House when there was an existing vacancy, is intended to elevate the nation’s highest court as an issue in 2020 – and put pressure on Democratic nominee Joe Biden to follow suit. Trump already had listed 25 other potential nominees.
“My nominee will come from the names I have shared with the American public” if a vacancy occurs, Trump said. “Joe Biden has refused to release his list, perhaps because he knows the names are so extremely far-left.”
The list’s release – eight days after Trump had suggested it would be unveiled – came as the White House was seeking to counter assertions in Bob Woodward’s new book that Trump purposely downplayed the COVID-19 threat for months despite recognizing its deadly potential.
The list of 20 new names is composed of federal appeals and district court judges, U.S. senators and others who Trump might nominate to the high court if given the chance in a second term. They include Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, as well as five current or former members of his administration.
Six of the 20 Trump named are women and two are Latino. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is Black, and appeals court Judge James Ho was born in Taiwan. Missing from the list was Neomi Rao, a conservative favorite of Indian descent, who Trump named to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2018.
One name on Trump’s earlier list – Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who he placed on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit – is said to be a possible nominee even sooner should ailing Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, leave the bench this year.
Other leading contenders from Trump’s earlier list, refined in 2017, include Judge Amul Thapar of the 6th Circuit appeals court, a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and two federal appeals court judges who were previous finalists: Thomas Hardiman of the 3rd Circuit and Raymond Kethledge of the 6th Circuit.
Trump’s first two Supreme Court nominees have solidified the court’s conservative majority. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, 53, was confirmed in April of 2017 to succeed the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, who died 14 months earlier. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, 55, was confirmed in October of 2018 after a bitter battle that included allegations of sexual assault in high school, charges that he denied.
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The president said any nominee would be in the mold of Scalia and current Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. He notably did not mention Chief Justice John Roberts, nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005 but considered suspect by conservatives for his votes on health care, abortion, immigration and LGBTQ rights.
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Republicans have more to gain if their focus on the courts, honed in 2016, translates into another victory this fall. That would put them in position to replace Ginsburg if she is unable to serve another four years. The next oldest justice, Stephen Breyer, 82, also is a member of the liberal wing.
The president’s even greater influence on the federal courts has come at the circuit and district court levels. He has won confirmation of more than 200 judges in all, including 53 circuit court judges. In doing so, he has flipped three circuit courts from having a majority of judges named by Democratic presidents to having a majority picked by GOP presidents.
That only raises the stakes for November. The next president and Senate majority will confront both a deeply divided Supreme Court and equally divided federal appeals courts, which handle most of the nation’s controversial legal issues.