Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton suggested Sunday night she might avoid lawyers who worked at “a big law firm and maybe clerked for a judge” without “real life experiences” in picking nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court if she is elected.
Instead, Clinton said she would look for lawyers who “tried some real cases and understand what people are actually up against.”
Democrat Clinton and Republican Donald Trump spoke about the court with only a few minutes left during their second televised debate Sunday night at Washington University in St. Louis. An audience member asked how they would go about making Supreme Court appointments.
Clinton said “The current court is on the wrong direction,” asserting that she wanted a Supreme Court that “doesn’t always side with corporate interests” in decisions like the 2010 campaign finance ruling known as Citizens United, which she said should be reversed.
Her comment about big law firms may have been directed at Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who was a top appellate advocate at Hogan Lovells and is one of the few recent nominees with extensive private law firm experience.
Clinton also said she wanted a court that would understand that “voting rights are still a big problem” and would stick with the Roe v. Wade abortion decision and uphold marriage equality. Some of Trump’s possible picks would reverse Roe and the rulings that protected same-sex marriage, Clinton said.
Clinton added that she regretted deeply that “the Senate has not done its job” by blocking a vote for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is a “highly qualified person,” Clinton said.
Clinton did not mention Garland by name, however, and did not indicate that she would re-nominate him if she is elected in November and the Senate fails to act on Garland’s nomination during the lame duck period before she takes office Jan. 20.
She went on to say that as president, she would move quickly to fill the Scalia vacancy—suggesting that she does not share the view that some commentators have expressed that the Senate likely would confirm Garland during the lame duck period, so as to keep her from nominating a more liberal candidate.
For his part, Trump said he would look for justices in the mold of the Scalia, whom he described as “a great judge.” He noted that he had already released the names of 20 “highly respected” people he would consider to fill the Scalia vacancy and possible future opening during his tenure. They would “respect the Constitution of the United States, he said, and have received “very beautiful reviews by just about everybody.”
Trump actually mentioned 21 names in two separate lists over the last few months. But one of them, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, dropped off the list as soon as Trump announced it. Lee on Saturday urged Trump to withdraw from the race.
Trump said his nominees would respect the Second Amendment, which he said is “totally under siege” by the likes of Clinton. Clinton responded, “I respect the Second Amendment” but said she favors comprehensive background checks and closing the gun show “loophole.”
Coming as it did at the very end of the debate, the candidates’ different visions of the future of the high court may not reverberate widely—especially in light of the other contentious political and personal issues that dominated the 90 minutes.
The high court has been a perennial, though not a prime issue in the 2016 campaign thus far. As many as three justices might depart in the next four years. Depending on who leaves and who joins, the court could soon have the first liberal majority in decades or a more predictable conservative majority.
Both candidates have used the court as a key reason for undecided voters to go their way. “Even if people don’t like me, they have to vote for me,” Trump said in July. “They have no choice. … You know why? Justices of the Supreme Court.”
Clinton has also stressed the importance of future Supreme Court nominees, especially in the area of campaign finance. “We need to appoint Supreme Court justices who will get money out of politics and expand voting rights, not restrict them,” she said at the Democratic National Convention.
Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice Action Campaign, a veteran of Supreme Court nomination battles, said after the debate, “Tonight, the presidential candidates made it clear just how critical this election is for our Supreme Court. The next president could appoint up to four justices who will serve lifetime tenures.”