Donald Trump’s list for the U.S. Supreme Court gained approval from many social conservatives but apparently was unable to convince all to support his presidential candidacy.
On May 18 the presumptive Republican Party nominee named 11 candidates he would consider as replacements for the late Antonin Scalia on the high court. Trump offered the list as a self-acknowledged effort to reassure conservatives, saying later in a television interview he released the names “to quell any fears that people may have.”
The brash billionaire faces the challenge of convincing many conservatives they should vote for him after a divisive primary campaign marked by his inconsistent and sometimes harsh policy positions, autocratic inclinations and uncivil, insult-laden rhetoric. His candidacy produced strong resistance from some conservatives and evangelical Christians. Using the hashtag #NeverTrump on Twitter, objectors have made no-vote promises – even in the general election.
With his list, Trump sought to address one of the most significant issues in the campaign – the makeup of the Supreme Court for years to come. Some social conservatives who opposed Trump in the primaries have used the court as a reason for supporting him in the general election. They have said they will vote for him because the Democratic nominee – almost certainly Hillary Clinton – is sure to select nominees who support abortion and LGBT rights and likely not be champions of religious freedom.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, called it “an exceptionally strong list of jurists.”
“We are encouraged by Mr. Trump’s repeated pledges to appoint constitutionalists, which stands in sharp contrast to Hillary Clinton’s position,” Dannenfelser said in written comments. “There is no question Clinton would only nominate judges who stand in lock-step with the abortion lobby and would strike down even the most modest abortion limits.”
Hannah Smith, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a former clerk for Supreme Court Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said the list “includes judges who take seriously the religious liberty of all Americans and who would apply the law fairly to preserve this crucial constitutional right.”
“All of the potential nominees on the list have records of principled judicial philosophies and have demonstrated their commitment to interpreting the constitution and laws as written, even under pressure,” Smith said. Neither Smith nor the Becket Fund endorses candidates.
Southern Baptist cultural commentator Denny Burk, however, said the list “does not alleviate the concerns that many of us have about his candidacy.”
Trump did not promise “to pick anyone from the list. … So the list means nothing. … And we are again being asked to trust the judgment of a man who changes his positions daily and who is a liar,” said Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Trump’s “character, temperament and authoritarian tendencies suggest that he would be a menace to our Constitutional order,” Burk wrote in a May 19 blog post.
Conservative blogger Erick Erickson said there is no guarantee Trump would name anyone on the list.
“This list is a limited time offer, subject to change, and may vary from sentence to sentence,” Erickson said. “Therein lies the ultimate problem with the Trump candidacy.”
Trump acknowledged to Fox News television host Sean Hannity he would not be bound to the 11 names on the list.
“I thought what I would do is put this forward and this would be the list that I would either choose from or pick people very close in terms of the spirit and the meaning of what they represent,” he said.
He will choose “most likely” from the list, Trump told Hannity. “But, at a minimum, we will keep people within this general realm.”
Among the social conservatives who are supporting Trump after strongly opposing him in the primaries are Dannenfelser and Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, The New York Times reported May 15.
“He’s not my first choice. He’s not my second choice,” Nance told The Times. “But any concerns I have about him pale in contrast to Hillary Clinton.”
Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees consists of:
Steven Collton, a judge on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003 and clerked for the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
Allison Eid, an associate justice of the Colorado Supreme Court who clerked for Thomas on the Supreme Court.
Raymond Gruender, also a judge on the Eighth Circuit Court who was appointed by Bush in 2004.
Thomas Hardiman, a judge on the Third Circuit Court who was appointed by Bush in 2006.
Raymond Kethledge, a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court in Cincinnati who was appointed by Bush in 2007 and clerked for Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Joan Larsen, an associate justice of the Michigan Supreme Court who clerked for Scalia.
Thomas Lee, an associate justice of the Utah Supreme Court who clerked for Thomas and is the brother of Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
William Pryor, a judge on the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta who was appointed by Bush in 2004.
David Stras, an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court who clerked for Thomas.
Diane Sykes, a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court in Chicago who was appointed by Bush in 2003
Don Willett, a justice on the Texas Supreme Court who has been a critic of Trump on Twitter.
Many conservatives have regarded Sykes and Pryor as among the leading judges in the federal system.
On Hannity’s Wednesday evening show, Trump said the Federalist Society – an organization of conservative and libertarian lawyers – vetted the judges on his list and the conservative Heritage Foundation reviewed it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)