Donald Trump Supreme Court candidates
With the advice and consent of the United States Senate, the President of the United States appoints the members of the Supreme Court of the United States, which is the highest court of the federal judiciary of the United States. Following his victory in the 2016 presidential election, Republican Donald Trump took office as president on January 20, 2017, and faced an immediate vacancy on the Supreme Court due to the February 2016 death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. During the 2016 campaign, Trump had released two lists of potential nominees to the Supreme Court. After taking office, he nominated Neil Gorsuch to succeed Scalia, and Gorsuch was confirmed in April 2017. In November 2017, five more names were added to the previous lists of potential nominees. In June 2018, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, creating a second vacancy on the Supreme Court. In early July 2018, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh as his replacement, Kavanaugh was confirmed on October 6, 2018.
Both the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh confirmations were enabled by a rule change made by the Senate Republican majority in April 2017, which applied the so-called nuclear option to Supreme Court nominees and allowed nominations to be advanced by a simple majority vote rather than the historical norm of a three-fifths supermajority vote.
President Trump began his term in January 2017 with a vacancy to be filled as a result of the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. As three of the Court's justices at the time—Ruth Bader Ginsburg (born 1933), Anthony Kennedy (born 1936) and Stephen Breyer (born 1938)—were aged 78 or older, speculation arose that additional vacancies could occur during Trump's four-year presidential term. Because Ginsburg and Breyer were part of the liberal wing of the Court and Kennedy was a swing vote who often aligned with them on social issues, many top political analysts saw Trump's term as a chance for Republicans to reshape the court significantly towards a more conservative vision of the law. On June 27, 2018, this became a real possibility when Justice Kennedy officially announced his retirement.
Following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh on October 6, 2018, the Supreme Court is currently composed of the following nine Justices:
|Name||Age||Serving since||Appointed by||Law School (JD or LLB)|
|64||2005||George W. Bush||Harvard University|
|Clarence Thomas||70||1991||George H. W. Bush||Yale University|
|Ruth Bader Ginsburg||86||1993||Bill Clinton||Columbia University[note 1]|
|Stephen Breyer||80||1994||Harvard University|
|Samuel Alito||68||2006||George W. Bush||Yale University|
|Sonia Sotomayor||64||2009||Barack Obama||Yale University|
|Elena Kagan||58||2010||Harvard University|
|Neil Gorsuch||51||2017||Donald Trump||Harvard University|
|Brett Kavanaugh||54||2018||Yale University|
Nomination of Neil Gorsuch
On February 13, 2016, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead while vacationing at Cibolo Creek Ranch near Marfa, Texas. Scalia's death marked just the second time in sixty years that a sitting Supreme Court Justice died. It led to a rare but not unprecedented Supreme Court nomination during the last year of a presidency.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, stated the new President should replace Scalia, while President Obama stated that he planned to nominate someone to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court. On February 23, the eleven Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter to McConnell stating their intention to withhold consent on any nominee made by President Obama, and that no hearings would occur until after January 20, 2017, when the new president took office. On March 16, 2016, Obama nominated then-Chief Judge Merrick Garland (of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit), to replace Scalia. After Garland's nomination, McConnell reiterated his position that the Senate would not consider any Supreme Court nomination until a new president took office. Garland's nomination expired on January 3, 2017, with the 114th Senate having taken no action on the nomination.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, while Garland remained before the Senate, Trump released two lists of potential nominees. On May 18, 2016, he released a short list of eleven judges for nomination to the Scalia vacancy. On September 23, 2016, he released a second list of ten possible nominees, this time including three minorities. Both lists were assembled by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. Days after Trump's inauguration, Politico named three individuals as the front-runners for Scalia's position: Neil Gorsuch, Thomas Hardiman and Bill Pryor, with Trump reportedly later narrowing his list down to Gorsuch and Hardiman. At the time of the nomination, Gorsuch, Hardiman, and Pryor were all federal appellate judges who had been appointed by President George W. Bush. President Trump and White House Counsel Don McGahn interviewed those three individuals as well as Judge Amul Thapar of the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Kentucky in the weeks before the nomination. Trump announced Gorsuch as his nominee on January 31. Gorsuch was confirmed by the United States Senate in a 54–45 vote on April 7, 2017, with votes of 51 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Gorsuch was sworn in as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on April 10 by Kennedy.
Nomination of Brett Kavanaugh
On June 27, 2018, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, effective July 31, giving Trump an opportunity to send a second Supreme Court nominee to the Senate for confirmation. Kavanaugh was officially nominated on July 9, selected from among a list of "25 highly qualified potential nominees" considered by the Trump Administration. Kavanaugh's nomination was officially sent to the Senate on July 10, 2018, and confirmation hearings began on September 4. The hearings took longer than initially expected over objections to the withholding of documents pertinent to Kavanaugh's time in the Bush administration as a lawyer, and due to the presence of protestors.
On September 16, 2018, Christine Blasey Ford alleged Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982, in what she described as an attempted rape. The accusation delayed the scheduled September 20 vote. After Ford's accusation, Kavanaugh indicated he would not withdraw. Ford's allegations were followed by an accusation of sexual assault by Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez, and a letter from Julie Swetnick accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in high school. Ford and Kavanaugh appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing on September 27, and were questioned by Arizona sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell and members of the Senate. The Judiciary Committee voted to approve Kavanaugh on September 28 after Jeff Flake, considered to be a swing vote, declared his intent to vote in favor of the nomination with the provision that there would be a new FBI investigation into the allegations by Ford. The investigation concluded on October 4. Two days later, Kavanaugh was confirmed by a 50–48 vote, and sworn in that same day.
Below is a list of individuals which President Trump has identified as his potential nominees for Supreme Court appointments. Most of them were revealed in two lists released by the Trump campaign in 2016. Others were added to a revised list released by the White House on November 17, 2017.
Following the nomination of Amul Thapar to the Sixth Circuit, it was noted that Trump might try to season some of the candidates on his list with federal appellate court experience prior to potential nomination to the Supreme Court. Indeed, Trump later elevated a number of state court judges from his list to fill vacant positions on the federal Courts of Appeals: Joan Larsen (Sixth Circuit), David Stras (Eighth Circuit), Allison Eid (Tenth Circuit), Don Willett (Fifth Circuit), and Britt Grant (Eleventh Circuit). Conversely, two previous Trump appointees to the Courts of Appeals—Amy Coney Barrett (Seventh Circuit) and Kevin Newsom (Eleventh Circuit)—were later added to the list of potential Supreme Court candidates.
Despite speculation that Trump might consider other candidates for a possible second Supreme Court nomination, he said in May 2017 that he would make his next appointment from the same list he used to choose Gorsuch (the combined 21 names given on either of the two lists he released during the campaign), describing the list as "a big thing" for him and his supporters. Trump added five further candidates to the list on November 17, 2017.
Note: Names marked with a single asterisk (*) were included on the original short list of eleven potential candidates for the Scalia vacancy released by the Trump campaign on May 18, 2016. Names marked with a double asterisk (**) were included on the additional short list of ten more potential candidates released on September 23, 2016. Names marked with a triple asterisk (***) were added to the revised short list of November 17, 2017.
United States Courts of Appeals
- Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
- Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit
- Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit
- Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit
- Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
- Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit
- Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit
- Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit
- Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
United States District Courts
- Federico A. Moreno** (born 1952) – District Judge, United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
State Supreme Courts
- Keith R. Blackwell** (born 1975) – Associate Justice, Supreme Court of Georgia
- Charles T. Canady** (born 1954) – Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Florida
- Thomas Rex Lee* (born 1964) – Associate Justice, Utah Supreme Court (possible candidate for a circuit court vacancy)
- Edward Mansfield** (born 1957) – Associate Justice, Iowa Supreme Court
- Patrick Wyrick*** (born 1981) – Associate Justice, Supreme Court of Oklahoma (nominated to the Western District of Oklahoma)
- Robert P. Young Jr.** (born 1951) – Former Chief Justice, Michigan Supreme Court
United States Senators
- Federal judicial appointment history
- List of federal judges appointed by Donald Trump
- United States federal judge
- Ginsburg began her legal studies at Harvard, but transferred to and graduated from Columbia.
- Willett was originally placed on Trump's (first) short list for the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. After the nomination of Gorsuch to the Scalia vacancy, however, Trump nominated Willett to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Willett was confirmed on December 13, 2017, and this appointment is considered to enhance his potential for nomination to a future Supreme Court vacancy.
- Larsen was originally placed on Trump's (first) short list for the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. After the nomination of Gorsuch to the Scalia vacancy, however, Trump nominated Larsen to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Larsen was confirmed on November 1, 2017, and this appointment is considered to enhance her potential for nomination to a future Supreme Court vacancy.
- Thapar was originally placed on Trump's (second) short list for the Supreme Court as a judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. After the nomination of Gorsuch to the Scalia vacancy, however, Trump nominated Thapar to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Thapar was confirmed on May 25, 2017, and this promotion is considered to enhance his potential for nomination to a future Supreme Court vacancy.
- Barrett was successfully nominated by Trump to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and confirmed on October 31, 2017. She first appeared on Trump's revised short list for the Supreme Court in November 2017 after the Scalia vacancy had already been filled.
- Stras was originally placed on Trump's (first) short list for the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. After the nomination of Gorsuch to the Scalia vacancy, however, Trump nominated Stras to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Stras was confirmed on January 30, 2018, and this appointment is considered to enhance his potential for nomination to a future Supreme Court vacancy.
- Eid was originally placed on Trump's (first) short list for the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. After the nomination of Gorsuch to the Scalia vacancy, however, Trump nominated Eid to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Eid was confirmed on November 2, 2017, and this appointment is considered to enhance her potential for nomination to a future Supreme Court vacancy.
- Grant first appeared on Trump's revised short list for the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court in November 2017 after the Scalia vacancy had already been filled. Trump subsequently nominated Grant to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Grant was confirmed on July 31, 2018, and this appointment is considered to enhance her potential for nomination to a future Supreme Court vacancy.
- Newsom was successfully nominated by Trump to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and confirmed on August 1, 2017. He first appeared on Trump's revised short list for the Supreme Court in November 2017 after the Scalia vacancy had already been filled.
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