(Diego M. Radzinschi)
With speculation spreading across Washington about possible Trump administration nominees, at least one concrete list of names is already public: 20 people Trump would appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In an unprecedented move, Trump released a list of 11 names in May and 10 more in September, drawn from federal and state courts, as well as one nonjudge: Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who quickly said he was not interested. That leaves 20 judges in the spotlight for a nomination process that is traditionally kept secret until one person is chosen.
In a Sept. 23 press release, Trump thanked the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society for helping him find names. “This list is definitive and I will choose only from it in picking future justices of the United States Supreme Court,” Trump said in his statement.
Thirteen of the 20 possible nominees are white men, including several well-known federal appeals judges such as Steven Colloton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit; Neil Gorsuch and Timothy Tymkovich of the Tenth, and William Pryor J. of the Eleventh. One state judge on the list, Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court, has won a following in part for his frequent Twitter postings—rare for a sitting judge.
But if Trump looks for diversity in picking a replacement for the late Antonin Scalia, or for future vacancies, here are five possibilities:
• Judge Margaret Ryan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces: The president-elect has spoken of having a special commitment to veterans. If he chose to put one on the nation’s highest court, he wouldn’t need to look any farther than down the street to Judge Margaret Ryan. A Chicago native, Ryan, 52, is a Marine who served on active duty from 1987 to 1999 and later clerked for conservative favorites, Justice Clarence Thomas and former Fourth Circuit Judge J. Michael Luttig. President George W. Bush nominated the Notre Dame law graduate, and she was confirmed, to a 15-year term on the court in 2006. A potential concern for religious freedom groups: Ryan wrote the 4-1 decision in United States v. Sterling, finding that Marine Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling could not assert a Religious Freedom Restoration Act defense to her court martial for refusing orders to remove Bible verses from her workplace.
• Judge Federico Moreno, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida: A President George H.W. Bush appointee in 1990, Judge Federico Moreno, born in Venezuela, is the only Hispanic on Trump’s early potential picks’ list, and he is from Florida, a crucial state in the Trump victory. A University of Miami School of Law graduate, Moreno, described by some as smart and witty, may not thrill those on the hard right because of: his age, 64; his experience as a criminal defense lawyer and public defender; and some recent pro-plaintiff class action rulings against, for example, managed care providers for racketeering and Honda and Takata for defective airbags.
• Judge Diane Sykes, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit: Picking Judge Diane Sykes would please Trump’s conservative base and add a fourth female to the high court. Sykes, 58, is a Federalist Society rock star. In 2013, Common Cause and other groups filed an ethics complaint against her for moderating a conversation with Justice Clarence Thomas at a Federalist Society event that some viewed as a fundraiser. The complaint was quickly dismissed. Sykes once said that in hiring law clerks, “I don’t only hire Federalist Society members” as clerks, but there has to be “some general philosophical fit.” The former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice has issued rulings supporting a voter ID law and also wrote an opinion in 2011 holding that the Second Amendment prohibited Chicago’s ban on firing ranges.
• Judge Amul Thapar, U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Kentucky: Born in Detroit to Indian American parents, Judge Amul Thapar, 47, was the first South Asian Article III judge. A graduate of University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Thapar served as U.S. attorney in Lexington before being tapped by President George Bush for the federal bench in 2007. Among his rulings, he refused to block a Labor Department injunction against Massey Energy Co. for coal mine safety violations and in 2014 sentenced three anti-nuclear activists, including an 84-year-old nun, to prison for breaking into a Tennessee military nuclear facility. His prosecution and trial judge experience could be seen as pluses in a nomination, while a lack of appellate judging experience might be viewed as a minus.
• Chief Justice Robert Young Jr., Michigan Supreme Court: A Detroit native and Harvard Law graduate, Chief Justice Robert Young, an African-American, has sat on the Michigan Supreme Court since 1999 and was most recently elected to another eight-year term in 2010. A self-described “rule of law” judge and a “judicial traditionalist,” Young has criticized the concept of a “living Constitution.” His age—65—may be a disadvantage given Republican desires to put young conservatives on the high court for many years. Young’s penchant for wearing bow ties, a sartorial preference he shares with retired Justice John Paul Stevens, may or may not be viewed as a “plus” for a possible nomination.