Trump announces his Supreme Court picks, including one who has repeatedly mocked him

By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Hoping to reassure Republicans worried that he might be too liberal, Donald Trump on Wednesday named 11 conservative judges from outside the Washington Beltway as his likely choices for a Supreme Court justice should he be elected president.

For a presidential candidate to release such a list before the election — or, in Trump’s case, even before formally winning the nomination — is highly unusual.

The move comes as Trump is seeking to unify Republicans. Presenting a list of judges well known on the right could help him with a significant constituency: social conservatives who have been skeptical of his past support for liberal stands on issues such as abortion.

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But as with many other moves by Trump, the announcement raised questions — not least of which was how committed the New York businessman was to the list or even how familiar he is with those on it.

Several of the names have appeared on published lists by conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, and at least one, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don R. Willett, has publicly mocked Trump in Twitter messages in recent weeks.

Most of the judges on Trump’s list come from the South and Midwest. Conspicuously absent are any currently working on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which is the conventional breeding ground for high court nominees. That seems to fit in well with Trump’s narrative as a Washington outsider.

Five are Republican appointees to state supreme courts: Willett, Allison Eid of Colorado, Joan Larsen of Michigan, Thomas Lee of Utah and David Stras of Minnesota.

The six others are George W. Bush appointees to federal appellate courts around the country: Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania on the 3rd Circuit; Raymond Kethledge of Michigan on the 6th; Diane Sykes of Wisconsin on the 7th; Steven Colloton of Iowa and Raymond Gruender of Missouri on the 8th; and William Pryor of Alabama on the 11th.

Larsen was once a clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat has yet to be filled. Three others were once clerks for Justice Clarence Thomas, Scalia’s conservative partner at the high court.

Missing from the list are prominent conservatives from Washington, D.C., including Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a Bush appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, both of whom have been seen as strong candidates for the high court in the next Republican administration.

Trump’s list won plaudits from conservative activists as well as Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman who has refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia.

“Mr. Trump has laid out an impressive list of highly qualified jurists,” Grassley said, citing Colloton as an example. “Understanding the types of judges a presidential nominee would select for the Supreme Court is an important step in this debate so the American people can have voice in the direction of the Supreme Court for the next generation.”

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