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Everything You Need to Know About Donald Trump's Candidates for the Supreme Court

by Countable | 3.20.17

When Donald Trump is inaugurated as president on January 20, he’ll have one immediate spot on the Supreme Court to fill. By the end of his time as president, that could grow to two or three or even four SCOTUS vacancies.

Justice Antonin Scalia died last February and President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland has been waiting nine months for a confirmation that now isn’t going to come. Trump will get to name a replacement for Scalia and, potentially, nominees to fill the seats of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal justice who is 83 years old, Anthony Kennedy, a conservative swing vote on the Court who is 80 years old, and Stephen Breyer, another liberal justice who is 78 years old.

Trump has already released a list he says he will pull from when naming nominees to the nation’s highest court for lifetime terms. Each would need to be questioned and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee before being confirmed by the full Senate, with a majority vote. So be sure to tell your senators what you think.

(Since these are lifetime appointments, we have included the ages of the potential SCOTUS nominees or estimated them based on available data).

The Nominees

Keith Blackwell, ~ 42 years old (Blackwell finished undergrad in 1996). Justice Blackwell currently serves on the Georgia Supreme Court and was appointed by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal in 2012. He graduated from the University of Georgia law school, then worked in private practice before going to work for the state, including on Georgia’s Court of Appeals. As a deputy special attorney general for the state, Blackwell helped Georgia to challenge the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, according to Forbes. Blackwell is also a fan of video games, telling a group of attorneys last year that he enjoys playing NFL games to clear his mind after work.

Charles Canady, 62 years old. Canady is a former member of the House of Representatives and general counsel to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who now serves on the Florida Supreme Court. He also served as the court’s chief justice for a two-year term. During his time in the House, Canady coined the term "partial-birth abortion" in a fight to ban the practice (which wouldn’t pass until 2003, after he left Congress), according to the Florida Bar Journal. He was a strong supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act (which defined marriage as between one man and one woman) and pushed to impeach President Bill Clinton. Just last month, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that the state’s new death penalty law was unconstitutional because it does not require the jury to be unanimous; Canady was the only justice to dissent in that case.

Steven Colloton, 63 years old. Colloton is a Yale and Princeton grad, who has served on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals since he was appointed by George W. Bush in 2003. He previously worked in the Dept. of Justice and as an assistant to Independent Counsel Ken Starr, during his investigation of the Whitewater scandal (that inquiry turned into the Monica Lewinsky investigation, after Colloton left the office). Colloton, along with a few other judges on this list, ruled in favor of organizations that objected to covering birth control under the Affordable Care Act due to religious reasons. Mitt Romney also considered Colloton as a potential SCOTUS nominee.

Allison Eid, ~ 51 years old (finished undergrad at Stanford in 1987). Eid has served as a justice on the Colorado Supreme Court since 2006 and previously worked in the private sector and as a law professor at the University of Colorado. She would have a familiar face on the Supreme Court if nominated, as she previously clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. Eid authored an opinion for the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled that the University of Colorado could not ban concealed weapons that were otherwise legal on campus.

Neil Gorsuch, 49 years old. Gorsuch serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, after working as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Dept. of Justice. Gorsuch previously clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy, one of the judges he could end up replacing on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch is no stranger to Washington; his mother was the first female EPA administrator, in the Reagan administration, according to the Denver Post. He is a strong critic of over-criminalization, blaming lawmakers for making too many things federal crimes and has argued that the legal precedent for courts to defer to federal agencies in areas where policy is ambiguous, is unconstitutional. Gorsuch also wrote a book earlier in his career, making the legal and ethical argument against euthanasia.

Raymond Gruender, 53 years old. Gruender has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit since he was nominated by Bush in 2003. He’s strongly involved in domestic violence issues and advocacy after his father shot him and his sister at a young age and then killed himself, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As a judge, Gruender’s opinion in a 2007 case provided some of the backing for lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate. And he ruled in favor of a South Dakota law that required abortion providers to inform patients that they were terminating a human life before the procedure.

Thomas Hardiman, 51 years old. Hardiman has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District since he was nominated by Bush in 2006. Haridman was "the first in his family to attend college, according to the Trump campaign," per TalkingPointsMemo, and earned degrees from both Notre Dame and Georgetown. He has ruled in a number of high-profile criminal justice cases, including finding that strip searches in jails do not violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure (which was upheld by the Supreme Court). He also ruled in a 2010 Pennsylvania case, that citizens cannot secretly record police officers under the state’s wiretapping law.

Raymond Kethledge, 49 years old. Kethledge is another Bush appointee who has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District since 2008. He previously served as a counsel in the Senate, working with the Senate Judiciary Committee (which confirms SCOTUS nominees), and as an in-house counsel for Ford Motor Company, according to TPM. This year, he criticized the IRS for declining to release documents related to a tea party group’s suit against the agency for, they allege, unfairly targeting them and other conservative groups.

Joan Larsen, 48 years old. Larsen has served on the Michigan Supreme Court for just one year, after a long career as a professor at the University of Michigan Law school. Larsen previously clerked for Scalia at the Supreme Court and worked in the Dept. of Justice. The Michigan ACLU has sued DOJ for access to a secret memo it claims Larsen wrote during her time there, which in part provided the legal justification for torture, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Mike Lee, 45 years old. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has served in the Senate since 2011 and is also on the Judiciary Committee. Lee clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and served as a lawyer in private practice, as well as in former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s administration and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Utah. Lee, who is close with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and supported him for president, has said he would not accept a Supreme Court nomination in a Trump administration.

Thomas Lee, 52 years old. Sen. Lee’s brother, Thomas, has served on the Utah Supreme Court since 2010 as the associate chief justice. Lee previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, taught law at his alma mater Brigham Young University and worked as counsel for both the state of Utah and DOJ. Lee has argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in the past, including in a case brought by advocates for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Lee represented the Bush administration, arguing against their petition to allow detainees to bring their cases in civilian courts (rather than military tribunals). SCOTUS ruled against him. In 2011, Lee ruled that a fetus qualifies as "minor child" in wrongful death suits.

Edward Mansfield, ~ 60 years old (finished undergrad in 1978). Mansfield has served on the Iowa Supreme Court since 2011, after spending two years on the Iowa Court of Appeals. In one case from 2012 that got national attention, Mansfield and the court ruled against a woman who sued her former employer, a dentist, for gender discrimination. According to the Guardian, "he fired her supposedly for the sake of his marriage," after suggesting that she “wear less revealing clothing to the office because of his attraction to her.” Mansfield said that the firing was not related to gender. In another high-profile case, Mansfield dissented with the court’s ruling against sentencing minors to life without the chance for parole, arguing, essentially, that the court was legislating from the bench.

Federico Moreno, 64 years old. Moreno has served on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida since 1990 and was appointed by George H.W. Bush. Moreno was born in Venezuela and attended the University of Miami Law School. He would be the first Floridian and the first Venezuelan on the Supreme Court, according to the Southern District of Florida Blog. In a notable 2006 ruling, Moreno found that the U.S. improperly returned 15 Cuban immigrants to their home country, who were found standing on an abandoned bridge in the Florida Keys, and ordered the U.S. to try to help them return, according to the New York Times. The government argued that because they were on a bridge in the water, the immigrants were not on U.S. soil and thus could be sent back.

William Pryor, 54 years old. Pryor is another Bush appointee, serving on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit since 2004. Pryor previously served as the Attorney General for Alabama. He gained national attention in 2003, when he called for Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore to step down, after he refused to remove the 10 Commandments from the court’s property (Pryor said he agreed with Moore, but that Moore had to follow a federal court ruling). Democrats opposed his appointment to the 11th Circuit court in large part because of his feelings on Roe v. Wade (which he called "the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law") and his support for anti-sodomy laws, in which he compared homosexuality to "prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest and pedophilia." But he was confirmed by Bush in a recess appointment, bypassing the Senate. On the 11th Circuit, Pryor wrote a unanimous ruling approving Georgia’s voter ID law and supported a unanimous ruling, in which the court found that firing a transgender person over their gender identity constituted gender discrimination. In one of his first cases on the federal court, Pryor quoted the song "Love Shack” by the B-52s in a ruling allowing an Alabama county to prohibit an adult bookstore from opening there.

Margaret A. Ryan, 52 years old. Ryan was nominated by Bush to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in 2006. Ryan served in the Marine Corps and served in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm, before working as a JAG officer. She also clerked for Justice Thomas. In one notable 2008 case, Ryan ruled against the U.S. government, which was trying an Army private for disobeying orders by attending a KKK rally. While Ryan said that the court strongly condemned the private’s actions and related hate speech, she and the Court’s majority found that he was protected under the First Amendment.

Amul Thapar, 47 years old. Thapar was nominated by George W. Bush to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, where he currently serves, in 2007. Previously, he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in D.C. and as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Thapar would be the first Indian-American on the Supreme Court. He is an active anti-drug advocate and a member of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. In a high-profile 2013 case, Thapar sentenced three activists, including a nun, to three- and five-year prison terms after they broke into a U.S. nuclear weapons facility and defaced "a bunker holding bomb-grade uranium," according to CBS News. (The nun asked for life in prison). Thapar has also used his opinions to express pretty strong opinions about bourbon.

Timothy Tymkovich, 60 years old. Tymkovich is the chief justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and was appointed by Bush in 2003. He previously served as the Solicitor General for Colorado, for five years, where he argued before SCOTUS, including defending a Colorado law that withheld certain protections for LGBT individuals. Tymokovich wrote the 10th Circuit’s majority opinion in the *Hobby Lobby *case that later made it to the Supreme Court, arguing that the company does have religious freedom rights. (That decision was upheld by SCOTUS). In a notable 2012 case, Tymkovich wrote the opinion upholding a conviction under the Stolen Valor Act (which made it illegal to falsely claim to have won a military honor before it was overturned by SCOTUS), arguing that the First Amendment doesn’t protect known falsehoods.

David Stras, 42 years old. Stras has served as a judge on the Minnesota Supreme Court since 2010. Previously, he worked as a private attorney in D.C. and also clerked for Justice Thomas. As ThinkProgress notes, Stras has put out some interesting ideas for SCOTUS in the past, including "creating a ‘golden parachute’ for justices to encourage them to retire" and requiring justices to occasionally travel the country to hear regular cases, rather than just ones that make it to SCOTUS. Stras hasn’t ruled on major cases with national implications at this point, but his rulings have shown him to be less ideological and more focused on the letter of the law, a Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist argues.

Diane Sykes, 58 years old. Sykes has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit since 2004. Previously, she was a justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and worked as a trial judge in Milwaukee. In 2011, Sykes ruled that Chicago could not ban shooting ranges under the Second Amendment. She also ruled in favor of Wisconsin’s voter ID law and for religious organizations seeking an exemption to the birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

Don Willett, 50 years old. Willett has served on the Texas Supreme Court since 2005. Previously, he worked on Bush’s 2000 campaign and advised him in the White House. Willett is still on Trump’s SCOTUS list, despite the fact that he has spent months ruthlessly mocking Trump on Twitter. Willett leans libertarian and is considered a rising Republican star in legal circles. Reason magazine called his opinion in a case revolving around a 750-hour training requirement for eyebrow threaders (which he opposed) perhaps the "Most Libertarian Legal Opinion Ever Written."

Robert Young, 65 years old. Young is the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, where he has served since 1999. Previously, he served on the state Court of Appeals. As chief justice, Young has pushed to downsize the Michigan judiciary "so that it costs no more than necessary for the efficient administration of justice," according to his official bio. Young is “the highest ranking African-American elected official” in Michigan, according to the Detroit News. Last year, Young ruled in favor of Michigan’s right to work law, prohibiting unions from requiring dues of state employees and likening them to a form of taxation. Young also threw out an opinion, drafted when liberals still controlled the Michigan court, that made it easier to sue the state over “environmental disputes,” according to the AP.

Honorable mention

The Huffington Post reported earlier this year that Trump was considering naming Peter Thiel to the Supreme Court as well. (Thiel, the founder of Paypal, has been in the news a lot this year after it became public that he funded the lawsuit that took down Gawker). But both the Trump campaign and Thiel denied that report.

— Sarah Mimms
Image via Tim Sackton/Flickr


Written by Countable

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