With just under two months remaining before the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump on Wednesday released a new list of potential Supreme Court nominees – his fourth such list since 2016. The announcement of the new list fulfilled a promise that the president made in a tweet in June, when Trump pledged not only to publish a “new list of Conservative Supreme Court Justice nominees” but also to fill any future vacancies on the court from that list.
In a news conference at the White House, Trump announced 20 new additions to the existing list of potential nominees. Like the prior lists, the new potential nominees include sitting federal judges, but they also include two former U.S. solicitors general, three U.S. senators, senior White House and Department of Justice officials, and the current U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
Trump released his first list of 11 potential nominees in May 2016, when he was the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. In a statement at the time, Trump indicated that his list was “representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value.” At a time when the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia remained open, the list was widely regarded as an effort to reassure conservatives that, if elected, Trump would choose a conservative to fill that seat and any others that became open during his presidency.
Trump included 10 additional names on a second list, which he released in September 2016. The second list added (among others) Neil Gorsuch, then a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, whom Trump later nominated to fill the Scalia vacancy on Jan. 31, 2017.
Trump announced a third list in November 2017. That list added five names – two women and three men – to the 21 whom Trump had previously announced. One noteworthy addition was Brett Kavanaugh, then a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Less than a year later, Trump nominated in July 2018 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Trump’s tweet announcing his plan to release a new list came on the same day that the Supreme Court – by a vote of 5-4 – rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to end an Obama-era program that has provided a shield from deportation to young undocumented adults who came to the United States as children. Three days before that, the court – this time, by a vote of 6-3, with Trump nominee Gorsuch writing the majority opinion – ruled that federal employment discrimination laws protect LGBT employees. “Based on decisions being rendered now,” Trump said on Twitter at the time, “this list is more important than ever before.”
In his remarks at the White House on Wednesday, Trump proclaimed that many “cherished rights” will be at stake in the upcoming election, and he suggested that the next president could have the opportunity to appoint as many as four new justices. And although he praised Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, he pledged to fill any vacancies with candidates in the mold of three justices appointed by other presidents: Scalia, who was nominated by Ronald Reagan; Clarence Thomas, nominated by George H.W. Bush; and Samuel Alito, nominated by George W. Bush.
Like his earlier lists, the new potential nominees are predominantly male and white. They are also young, with only seven over the age of 50. The youngest potential nominee on the list – and the only Black candidate included – is just 34: Daniel Cameron, the attorney general of Kentucky. Three Republican senators made the new list: Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas (a former opponent of Trump’s during the Republican primaries in 2016) and Josh Hawley of Missouri. The list includes eight judges from the federal courts of appeals, two judges on federal trial courts, and one state supreme court justice: Carlos Muñiz, of the Florida Supreme Court.
Wednesday’s list also features Washington insiders who have never served as judges but who are well known to the conservative legal establishment: Paul Clement and Noel Francisco, both former U.S. solicitors general; Steven Engel, the current head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice; and Christopher Landau, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. By contrast, some judges regarded as conservative rising stars – most notably, Neomi Rao of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Andy Oldham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit — did not make the new list.
Shortly after Trump concluded his announcement, Hawley took himself out of the running, tweeting that although he appreciated “the President’s confidence in listing me as a potential Supreme Court nominee,” he had “no interest in the high court.” Cotton appeared to be more interested: He tweeted that he would “always heed the call of service to our nation,” adding in a separate tweet that the court “could use more justices who understand the difference between applying the law and making the law, which the Court does when it invents a right to an abortion, infringes on religious freedom, and erodes the Second Amendment.”
Here is the full list of the president’s additions to his group of potential nominees:
- Bridget Bade (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit)
- Daniel Cameron (Kentucky attorney general)
- Paul Clement (former solicitor general of the United States)
- Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)
- Stuart Kyle Duncan (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit)
- Steven Engel (Office of Legal Counsel, DOJ)
- Noel Francisco (former solicitor general of the United States)
- Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)
- James Ho (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit)
- Greg Katsas (U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit)
- Barbara Lagoa (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit)
- Christopher Landau (U.S. ambassador to Mexico)
- Carlos Muñiz (Supreme Court of Florida)
- Martha Pacold (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois)
- Peter Phipps (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit)
- Sarah Pitlyk (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri)
- Allison Jones Rushing (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit)
- Kate Todd (deputy White House counsel)
- Lawrence Van Dyke (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit)
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.