Who is Donald Trump’s sister and why is South Carolina so interested in her?

Not happy.
Not happy.
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
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As voters head to the polls today for the South Carolina Republican primary, they might have turned to Google for more information on the candidates. So what was on their mind this week? The search engine released data on election-related searches performed in South Carolina, and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s top trending question seems, at first sight, a bit odd:

With all of his famous children, ex-wives and other relatives, why the sudden interest in Trump’s sister?

Well, Trump has two sisters, but the one South Carolinians are most likely interested in is his oldest sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a senior judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. And that’s because his opponent, Ted Cruz, recently took aim at her.

“You know, the one person [Trump] has suggested that would make a good justice is his sister, who is a court of appeals judge appointed by Bill Clinton,” Cruz said in a Feb. 14 interview on This Week, his first television appearance after the GOP debate in South Carolina. “She is a hardcore pro-abortion liberal judge. And he said she would make a terrific justice.”

For the rest of the week, Cruz continued to bring up Barry as part of his efforts to paint Trump as an ardent Planned Parenthood supporter, calling Barry “a radical pro-abortion extremist.”

Barry was appointed by Bill Clinton to the US Court of Appeals in 1999, but her first judgeship was conferred by Ronald Reagan in 1983. Cruz’s characterization of her probably refers to her time on the US District Court in New Jersey, when she wrote the majority opinion on a ruling in 2000 that found a law banning partial-birth abortions to be unconstitutional. Calling her a “radical pro-abortion extremist,” though, might be, well, a touch extreme; Politifact points out that she was joined in that opinion by her then colleague Samuel Alito—now a supreme court justice and noted conservative.

As for whether Trump wants to appoint his sister to the supreme court, he called her “phenomenal” choice in 2015, only to clarify this week that he was joking and “it’s obviously a conflict.”

By most accounts, Barry is well-respected by her peers, several of whom weren’t even aware that she was related to her famous sibling until they read about it in the press. On law blog Above the Law, she’s described by a former Third Circuit clerk as “saucy” and “funny and charismatic.”