Trump’s next Supreme Court pick could last for 40 years

The president’s pick for the bench will be walking up these steps for decades to come.
The president’s pick for the bench will be walking up these steps for decades to come.
Image: Reuters/Jason Reed
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Donald Trump’s legacy could long outlast his time in office. On June 27, Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement after 30 years, giving the US president a new seat to fill. And boy was the president ready.

After appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court last year, Trump has some idea of who he’ll choose to replace Kennedy. Before the 2016 election, Trump created a list, updated last November, of 25 potential Supreme Court picks, which no president has ever publicly circulated before. This week, he confirmed that his pick “will be somebody from that list.”

Some of the candidates on Trump’s list are quite young, like Patrick Wyrick of Omaha, who’s just 37 years old. The Supreme Court is a lifelong job, a tenure that 68% of Americans polled by Fix the Court oppose; if Wyrick’s appointed, he could be deciding high court cases for four decades or more. Kennedy, for example, is retiring at 82 after 30 years on the bench. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 85, says she’s not planning to retire anytime soon.

Trump’s candidates were selected in consultation with his “outside judicial advisor,” Leonard Leo of The Federalist Society. Federalists are constitutional conservatives who consider themselves especially faithful to the words of the framers of the US Constitution, although all judges interpret the law based on that text. Leo’s been making the media rounds all week and has indicated that he’s pleased with Trump’s priorities. On June 28, he told CBS This Morning what Trump wanted in his appointee:

One, extraordinarily well qualified. Two, people who are, in his words, “not weak.” And thirdly, people who are going to interpret the Constitution the way the framers meant it to be, which is the way he put it, which I thought was an interesting way to do it.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the list has been narrowed down to just a few candidates. According to Leo, anyone on it still has a chance at becoming the next Supreme Court justice. “The list is really good,” he told CBS. “You can throw a dart at that list and in my view you would be fine.”

Here’s who’s on it and where they’re from (ordered from youngest to oldest).

Patrick Wyrick, Oklahoma, 37 

Apart from being young, Wyrick hasn’t been a judge for very long. He was appointed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in February 2017 and is also Trump’s nominee for district judge on the US District Court of Western Oklahoma.

Wyrick was state solicitor general of Oklahoma from 2011 to 2017 under then-Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s current EPA administrator. He graduated of the University of Oklahoma Law School.

Britt Grant, Georgia, 40

Grant is also relatively new to judging, but not to politics. She was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 2017, and served as state solicitor general from 2015 to 2017. Trump has nominated Grant for the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Grant graduated from Stanford Law School, clerked for DC Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh—who is also on the list—and served in the George W. Bush White House.

Keith Blackwell, Georgia, 42

Blackwell has been sitting in judgment for about eight years. He’s served on the Georgia Supreme Court since 2012 and was a judge in the state’s Court of Appeals for two years before that.

Blackwell also clerked for Judge JL Edmondson of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit after graduating from the University of Georgia School of Law.

David Stras, Minnesota, 43

Stras has intellectual credits, as well as an MBA, which could make him appealing to Trump. He is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He is a former Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and served as a judicial clerk to current high court justice Clarence Thomas.

From 2004-2010, Stras was a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, where he taught and wrote about jurisdictional issues, constitutional law, criminal law, and law and politics all while working at a private law firm too. Stras was editor-in-chief of the Criminal Procedure Edition of the Kansas Law Review while attending the University of Kansas School of Law. He’s a member of the Federalist Society.

Amy Coney Barret, Indiana, 45

According to Bloomberg, “Kennedy’s replacement should be Amy Coney Barret,” if only so that there’s a female in the majority if the court overturns Roe v. Wade. Barret was appointed by Trump to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Indiana last October.

Barret previously clerked for late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Like Scalia, she is Catholic, but she argued in her Senate confirmation hearings that her religious convictions don’t inform her judicial decisions, after being accused of being dogmatic by senator Diane Feinstein, . Barret attended Notre Dame University, where she was executive editor of the Notre Dame Law Review.

Kevin Newsom, Alabama, 45

Newsom is relatively new to judgment but not to the judiciary. He is a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, appointed by Trump last August. Newsom has clerked for Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and for Justice David Souter of the US Supreme Court.

Newsom served as Alabama state solicitor general under then-attorney general William Pryor—also on this list—for three years but has spent much of his career in private practice. He graduated from Harvard Law School and was Articles Editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Michael Lee, Utah, 47

Lee is a junior senator from Utah and the only non-judge on the list. He’s also competing with his older brother, Thomas Lee, for the high court position. A Tea Party conservative and ally of Senator Ted Cruz, he’s got libertarian and conservative views, and recently criticized Trump for his tariff hikes.

Lee clerked for Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito when Alito was on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. He claims to have watched high court oral arguments for fun since he was 10 years old. Lee’s father Rex E. Lee was solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan. He attended Brigham Young University law school.

Amul Thapar, Kentucky, 49

Thapar has been remarked upon as among the favorites on the list. He is only the second judge of Indian descent to serve on a federal appeals court. Appointed by Donald Trump to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last May, he served as a federal judge before that in the Eastern District of Kentucky, appointed by George W. Bush.

Thapar clerked for S. Arthur Spiegel of the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and for Nathaniel Jones of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and has taught law in the University of Cincinnati College of Law. He graduated from University of California-Berkeley Law School.

Joan Louise Larsen, Michigan, 49

Larsen spent most of her career as a professor at the University of Michigan School of Law. She did a brief stint on the Michigan Supreme Court before becoming a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a seat she assumed last November after being appointed by Trump.

Larsen clerked for David Sentelle of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and for the deceased Supreme Court justice Scalia. She graduated top of her class from Northwestern University School of Law and was articles editor of the Northwestern University Law Review. She is a member of the Federalist Society.

Raymond Kethledge, Michigan, 51

Kethledge was a law clerk for justice Kennedy. He’s now a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. He spent much of his career in private practice, although he did teach a class focusing on good legal writing at the university of Michigan Law School. Kethledge also clerked for Sixth Circuit Judge Ralph Guy Jr.  and served as judiciary counsel to Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham from 1995 to 1997. He graduated from University of Michigan Law School.

Donny Willett, Texas, 51

Willet is a Texan, perhaps best known for his controversial tweets, though his Twitter account has been inactive this year. He sparked a firestorm of criticism after an insensitive tweet about transgenders in sports. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals judge, appointed by Trump and on the bench since January, has criticized Trump on Twitter and was apparently popular for making dad jokes.

Willet was a justice on the Texas Supreme Court for about 13 years. He worked as a clerk for Judge Jerre Stockton Williams at the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He has an MA in political science, which he got along with his law degree from Duke University, the first for a family in which neither parent completed high school. On Twitter, he says he was a drummer and a former rodeo bull rider.

Thomas Hardiman, Pennsylvania, 52

Hardiman has been on the bench for a while now and was a finalist to replace Scalia last year. He was appointed by George W. Bush to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 2007 and was a federal judge in Pennsylvania for four years prior.

Hardiman is the first person in his family to attend college and his Wikipedia page notes that he worked through school to pay for tuition. He studied law at Georgetown University Law Center, where he served as an editor of the Georgetown Law Journal.

Brett Kavanaugh, Washington DC, 53

Kavanaugh is considered a favorite for Kennedy’s seat on the high court and clerked for the Supreme Court justice. He’s been a Washington, DC appeals court judge, with something of a spotty record. As Heather Timmons noted in Quartz on June 28, DC political pundits and even online betting sites have Kavanaugh as the one to watch. But his former colleagues have called him “sanctimonious” and “inexperienced.”

If Kavanaugh is chosen, he’ll be a divisive pick; he was the lead author of Kenneth Starr’s report calling for Bill Clinton’s impeachment. He also represented George W. Bush in the 2000 election case on a vote recount.

Allison Hartwell Eid, Colorado, 53  

Eid is currently filling Gorsuch’s seat on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, appointed by Trump. She served on the Colorado Supreme Court for just over a decade. She was a special assistant and speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education, William Bennett, after which she attended University of Chicago Law School where she was articles editor for the law review.

Eid clerked for Judge Jerry Edwin Smith of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then for Clarence Thomas on the nation’s highest court. She was in private practice and was a law professor at  University of Colorado Law School, teaching constitutional law, torts, and federalism.

Thomas Rex Lee, Utah, 53

The older brother of the junior senator from Utah, also on Trump’s list, Lee has served on the Utah Supreme Court since 2010. Like Eid, Lee clerked for justice Thomas on the high court and has argued one case at the Supreme Court. He also served as a law clerk for Judge Harvie Wilkinson III on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. He was, briefly, a deputy assistant attorney general in the civil division of the Justice Department. Lee graduated from University of Chicago Law School.

Raymond Gruender, Missouri, 54

 Gruender was appointed by George W. Bush to the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004. He has an MBA, in addition to his law degree, from Washington University in St. Louis.

For those concerned about the future of Roe v. Wade and women’s right to choose what to do with their bodies, Gruender is a disheartening candidate.  He wrote the Eighth Circuit’s majority opinion for In Re Union Pacific Railroad Employment Practices Litigation, which concluded that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 did not give female employees the right to insurance coverage for contraceptives used solely to prevent pregnancy.

Gruender also authored the majority opinion in Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota v. Rounds, an Eighth Circuit case about a South Dakota law on informed consent and what abortion clinics must disclose to patients. He argued that the law was constitutional and did not unduly burden women seeking abortions or infringe on the freedom of speech of physicians.

Margaret Ryan, Washington DC, 54

Ryan is the sole judge on the list on a military court and appears to have led an adventurous life. She’s been on the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces since 2006, appointed by George W. Bush.  She served in the Marine Corps for 12 years. She’s been deployed to the Philippines, during a coup attempt, to Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. She was a Judge Advocate General officer, working as trial counsel and chief trial counsel in Okinawa, Japan and Quantico, Virginia.

It’s notable, however, that military law differs somewhat from the rules for civilian life—Ryan applies the Uniform Code of Military Justice to US soldiers and has worldwide jurisdiction. Ryan graduated from University of Notre Dame Law School, and is originally from Chicago.

Steven Colloton, Iowa, 55

Colloton, like Greunder, is a judge on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. He was appointed by George W. Bush in 2003. Unlike many of the candidates on the list, Colloton attended an Ivy League law school—Yale, where he was the law review editor.

Colloton clerked for deceased Supreme Court chief justice William Rehnquist. He was an attorney in the Office of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, like Kavanaugh. He was also an assistant US Attorney in the Northern District of Iowa from 1991 to 1999.

William Pryor, Alabama, 56

Pryor was nominated for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 by George W. Bush. He was a controversial pick because he filed an amicus brief for the state of Alabama in the US Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas, urging the court to uphold a Texas penal code section classifying homosexual sex as a misdemeanor crime. At the time of his election as Alabama state attorney general in 1997, Pryor was the youngest person to hold such an office in the US.

In 2003, Pryor called for the removal of then-Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore—of sexual harassment fame—who disobeyed a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building. Pryor was raised in a devoutly Catholic family and found the monument inoffensive but ordered Moore to follow the law. He is a commissioner of the US Sentencing Commission. Pryor attended Tulane University Law School and was editor-in-chief of the Tulane Law Review.

Diane Schwerm Sykes, Wisconsin, 60

At 60, Sykes and her few elders on the list seem unlikely picks if the president is intent on an extended legacy, but she does have a lot of experience as a judge. She is now a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, appointed by George W. Bush in 2004. Sykes spent five years on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and was a judge in Milwaukee county court for seven years before that. 

Interestingly Sykes also worked as a reporter at The Milwaukee Journal before attending law school. Her judicial philosophy is considered reliably “originalist,” meaning she adheres strictly to the original meaning of the Constitution. She graduated from Marquette University Law School. 

Edward Mansfield, Iowa, 61

Mansfield has been an associate justice on the Iowa Supreme Court since 2011. He was a judge on the Iowa Court of Appeals for two years prior. Before that, he spent his career in private practice. In 2012, Mansfield authored an opinion for the Iowa high court which found a dentist didn’t commit gender discrimination when he fired an attractive dental assistant at his wife’s behest. He attended Yale Law School.

Timothy Tymkovich, Colorado, 61

Tymkovich has been the chief judge of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals since 2015. He was appointed to the federal court by George W. Bush and has served on it since 2003. He was Colorado’s solicitor General from 1991 to 1996, during which time he argued several cases before the nation’s highest court. Among them was in Romer v. Evans, in which he unsuccessfully argued that Colorado’s Amendment 2, revoking local legal protections for members of the LGBT community, was constitutional under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. He graduated from University of Colorado Law School.

Charles Canady, Florida, 64

Canady is the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. At 64, he probably won’t be the president’s pick for the US Supreme Court, as that will leave him only a quarter-century on the bench. But Canady is politically savvy. He was a Republican member of the US House of Representatives from 1993-2001. He’s credited with coining the controversial term “partial-birth abortion” in 1995 in a meeting with National Right to Life Committee. Canady was one of the managers appointed to conduct the impeachment proceedings of President Clinton. Interestingly, he was a Democrat before 1989 and switched his affiliation to the Republican party. Canady attended Yale Law School.

Federico Moreno, Florida, 66

Moreno is the chief judge for the federal district court in the Southern District of Florida. He was appointed to the federal court by George HW Bush, assuming the bench in 1990. Moreno has been judging for quite some time. He spent a year as judge on the Dade County Court in 1986 before becoming a judge on the with judicial circuit court of Florida. Moreno is the only person on Trump’s list born outside the US—he’s from Caracas, Venezuela.

Robert Young Jr., Michigan, 67

The oldest candidate on Trump’s list, Young has already retired from one judicial position. He was chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, a position he left in January 2017 after nearly two decades at the state high court. He was a judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals from 1995 to 1998.

Young has previously said he would run for senator, but backed out, citing an inability to raise the needed funds. He is an avowed textualist—another way of saying originalist and indicating special allegiance to the Constitution. He’s the only black candidate on Trump’s list—Young grew up in Detroit, Michigan which he says was a de facto segregated city in his youth. He graduated from Harvard Law School.