Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he will retire from the Supreme Court effective July 31 has put all eyes back on President Trump’s list of 25 possible nominees to the high court.
The list’s origins trace back to the 2016 presidential campaign, when then-candidate Trump released in May 2016 a list of 11 judges he would consider to fill the seat vacated by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The list grew to 21 in September 2016, and that expansion included the name of Neil Gorsuch, who would go on to replace Scalia on the high court.
Trump’s final addition to his Supreme Court short-list came in November, when he added four more possible nominees to the high court, bringing the total to 25.
The list includes 24 former and current judges on the federal and state courts, in addition to one U.S. senator.
After Kennedy notified Trump of his impending retirement, the president told reporters he would select a successor from that list of 25. Court watchers say there a five favorites to be nominated, with several more under serious consideration.
Meet the judges — and senator —that make up Trump’s list.
Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Kavanaugh is so far regarded to be the top contender for the Supreme Court and, if selected, he would take the seat held by his former boss.
The 53-year-old was tapped to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2003, though it would be three years before he was officially confirmed. During his confirmation hearings, he faced controversy for his work with independent counsel Kenneth Starr during his investigation into former President Bill Clinton, having helped with the Starr Report.
Kavanaugh has spent more than a decade on the second-most powerful court. According to Empirical SCOTUS, Kavanaugh authored opinions in more than 280 cases as of the end of 2017, with the majority focusing on administrative law.
Kavanaugh recently dissented to a ruling from the D.C. Circuit that paved the way for an illegal immigrant teenager to get an abortion. If he is selected by Trump for the Supreme Court, the judge is likely to face questions about previous comments on the president’s power when it comes to independent counsel investigations.
Kavanaugh, like the other conservatives in the high court, has expressed skepticism about the Chevron doctrine, which says judges should defer to executive branch agencies’ interpretation of ambiguous statutes. He called Chevron “an atextual invention by the courts” and “nothing more than a judicially orchestrated shift of power from Congress to the Executive Branch.”
In 2016, he wrote the majority opinion for the three-judge panel deeming the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as “unconstitutionally structured.”
Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Hardiman, 52, was a finalist for Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court last year, which Gorsuch ultimately filled. He joined the 3rd Circuit in 2007 after receiving unanimous confirmation by the Senate.
He also served as a district court judge in Pennsylvania, a position then-President George W. Bush also nominated him to.
Two of Hardiman’s opinions were reviewed by the Supreme Court: one involving mandatory minimum sentences and another regarding strip-searches. In the case involving strip searches, which was upheld by the high court, the appeals court sided with jails that wanted to strip-search all inmates, even if they were arrested for minor offenses.
In 2013, Hardiman dissented in a case upholding a New Jersey law that said residents have to demonstrate a “justifiable need” to carry a handgun in public. In his dissent, Hardiman cited the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller.
Hardiman’s fellow judge on the 3rd Circuit is Maryanne Trump Barry, the president’s sister.
Hardiman was the first person in his family to graduate from college, and he paid for his law degree at Georgetown University Law Center by driving a taxi.
Raymond Kethledge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Like Kavanaugh, Kethledge also clerked for Kennedy on the Supreme Court.
He was initially tapped to the 6th Circuit in 2006 by Bush, though his nomination stalled due to opposition from Michigan’s two Democratic home state senators. Kethledge, 51, was re-nominated to the appellate court in 2007 and subsequently confirmed in 2008.
In the case Carpenter v. U.S., which the Supreme Court heard this term, Kethledge said the government’s collection of cell phone location information was not considered a Fourth Amendment search. He cited a landmark case from 1979 that helped form the basis of the third-party doctrine, which says that people don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy once they turn their information over to a third party, such as a cellphone company.
The Supreme Court reversed the 6th Circuit’s ruling this term.
Kethledge could face questions for his opinion in a case involving public school employees, which has been considered by critics to be “anti-union.” The case involved a 2012 law enacted in Michigan that barred school districts from collecting union dues through payroll deductions. The employees said the law was enacted as retaliation in violation of their First Amendment rights.
In 2014, the Wall Street Journal heralded an opinion Kethledge wrote in a case involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, dubbing it the “Opinion of the Year.”
Amul Thapar of Kentucky, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Thapar, 49, is considered to be a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has called him “a well-qualified jurist, and a man of high integrity.”
If he is selected and confirmed by the Senate, Thapar would be the first South Asian-American justice. Trump nominated Thapar to the 6th Circuit last year. Before joining the Cleveland-based court, he served on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Trump interviewed Thapar last year during the search to fill Scalia’s seat.
As a judge, Thapar was part of a three-judge panel that upheld Ohio’s three-drug protocol for lethal injections. He also was in the majority in a case upholding a Michigan county’s practice of starting public Board of Commissioners meetings with Christian prayers.
Amy Coney Barrett, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Barrett, 46, joined the Chicago-based appeals court in October. She previously served as a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and clerked for Scalia.
She practiced in Washington, D.C., before working as a professor at Notre Dame.
Barrett has already gone head-to-head with Senate Democrats, having faced tough questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., about her Catholic faith during her confirmation hearings for her nomination to the appellate court. During one exchange, Feinstein told Barrett “the dogma lives loudly in you.” The heads of Notre Dame and Princeton University later objected to the questions about Barrett’s faith.
Barrett was also criticized by Democrats for a law review article she co-authored in 1998 discussing how Catholic judges are “morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty.”
Joan Larsen, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Trump nominated Larsen to the Cleveland-based appeals court last year, and she joined the court in November. Prior to her appointment to the federal appeals court, she served on the Michigan Supreme Court, which she joined in 2015.
For much of her career, Larsen, 49, has worked as a law professor at the University of Michigan, which she joined after working in the Bush administration. She also clerked for Scalia on the Supreme Court.
Larsen is considered to have a relatively thin judicial record, as she has not weighed in on controversial issues thus far on the 6th Circuit. But she believes “judges should interpret the laws according to what they say, not according to what the judges wish they would say,” according to SCOTUSblog.
In 2016, she recused herself from cases involving a recount requested by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, citing Trump’s inclusion of her on his initial short list of possible Supreme Court contenders released during the 2016 campaign.
Allison Eid of Colorado, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
If Eid is picked to fill the vacancy on the high court created by Kennedy’s retirement, she would serve alongside her former boss, Justice Clarence Thomas, for whom Eid clerked for.
Trump tapped Eid, 53, to serve on the 10th Circuit last year and fill the seat vacated by Gorsuch.
Eid currently has at least one senator in her corner — Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, urged Trump to pick her for the high court.
Prior to her nomination to the 10th Circuit, Eid was a justice on the Colorado Supreme Court.
Mike Lee of Utah, United States senator
Lee, 47, is the lone senator included on Trump’s list of 25 possible nominees. He was elected to serve in the upper chamber in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave, though his family has roots in the legal field.
Lee’s brother, Thomas, is also on Trump’s list of prospective Supreme Court nominees.
If named to the Supreme Court, Lee would also serve alongside his former boss, Justice Samuel Alito, for whom he clerked on both the 3rd Circuit and the Supreme Court. Lee worked in private practice, focusing on appellate and Supreme Court litigation. He also worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Salt Lake City, during which he argued before the 10th Circuit.
In the Senate, Lee serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee and is a staunch conservative.
William Pryor, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Pryor was considered to be one of the frontrunners last year to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court and has no shortage of conservative bona fides. Pryor, 56, worked as the deputy attorney of Alabama and the state attorney general.
During his tenure as the state’s top law enforcement office, Pryor prosecuted then-Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who ran for the U.S. Senate last year, after he refused to comply with a federal court order to remove a monument of the 10 Commandments from a state judicial building.
Bush nominated Pryor to the 11th Circuit in 2003, but he faced backlash from Senate Democrats for a brief he authored defending Texas’s sodomy law in the case, Lawrence v. Texas, which was ultimately struck down. He has also called Roe v. Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law,” a comment that could dissuade Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska from supporting his nomination to the Supreme Court if Trump selects him.
He was ultimately confirmed to the 11th Circuit in 2004 after Bush named him to the appellate court during a congressional recess. According to SCOTUSblog, Pryor nearly always sides with the government in death penalty cases and is considered a significant backer of religious liberty.
Pryor is largely regarded as a staunch conservative, but in 2011, he joined an opinion that found officials with the Georgia General Assembly violated the Constitution when they fired a transgender employee who was transitioning from male to female.
The Other Contenders
Keith Blackwell, Supreme Court of Georgia
Blackwell, 42, joined Georgia’s top court in July 2012, having been nominated by Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican. Prior to his nomination, he served on the Court of Appeals of Georgia, an appointment he received in 2010.
Charles Canady, Supreme Court of Florida
At 68, Canady has had a career in both the judicial and legislative branches. He currently sits on the Supreme Court of Florida, to which he was nominated by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008. He served as chief justice from July 2010 to June 2012, a position to which he was elected to again in March 2018 for a two-year term starting in July.
Prior to joining Florida’s highest court, Canady served three terms in the Florida House of Representatives and four terms in the U.S. House. During his tenure in Congress, Canady chaired the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.
After leaving Congress, Canady served as general counsel to then-Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, and was subsequently named to the Second District Court of Appeal.
Steven Colloton, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Like Chief Justice John Roberts, Colloton, 54, clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court.
In 2003, then-President George W. Bush tapped Colloton to the St. Louis-based appeals court. Colloton started his legal career in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and then served as a U.S. attorney in Iowa.
Throughout his more than a decade on the 8th Circuit, Colloton has authored 615 majority opinions, according to SCOTUSblog. He has typically sided with the government in cases involving the death penalty and demonstrates conservative judicial philosophy in cases involving abortion and religious liberty.
He has only ruled on four Second Amendment cases, according to SCOTUSblog. In 2011, he was on the three-judge panel that effectively extended the NFL lockout and also joined the majority in a pair of decisions siding with religious nonprofits challenging Obamacare’s contraceptives mandate.
Britt Grant, Supreme Court of Georgia
Grant joined the Georgia Supreme Court in January 2017, and her nomination to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Prior to joining Georgia’s top court, Grant, 40, served as the state’s solicitor general.
In the run-up to her confirmation hearing, Grant faced criticism for the positions taken while serving as the solicitor general of Georgia. She worked on the friend-of-the-court brief filed by the state in the 2015 landmark case legalizing gay marriage and worked on an amicus brief in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association criticizing the “agency fees” nonunion members were forced to pay to public sector unions.
The Supreme Court ruled in a different case this term that requiring nonmembers to pay those fees violates the First Amendment.
Raymond Gruender, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Bush nominated Gruender to the 8th Circuit in 2004, and before joining the appeals court, he served as a U.S. attorney in Missouri.
Gruender, 54, has an interesting personal story. When he was in law school at Washington University in St. Louis, Gruender and his sister were shot by their father, who was said to be angry after his mother left because of domestic violence. During the dispute, Gruender “knocked his father to the floor” before his brother, then 12, could be shot, according to the Minnesota State Bar Association.
As a judge on the 8th Circuit, Gruender has ruled against defendants in death penalty cases and in 2008, he wrote the opinion for the full circuit court upholding South Dakota’s informed consent law.
Gruender was also part of a three-judge panel to ruled on the case Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, which the Supreme Court heard this term.
The 8th Circuit panel rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Minnesota law that prohibited political apparel at the polls on Election Day and said the law was reasonable because of the state’s interest in maintaining decorum at the polls and the integrity of the election process.
The Supreme Court, though, stuck down Minnesota’s restrictions, saying they violated the First Amendment.
Thomas Lee of Utah, Supreme Court of Utah
Lee, 53, is the older brother of Sen. Mike Lee and currently serves on the Utah Supreme Court, a position he’s held since 2010.
After graduating from law school, he clerked for Thomas on the Supreme Court, after which he worked as a professor at Brigham Young University Law School. He served in the Justice Department under Bush.
Lee has spoken favorably of originalism and textualism, saying “they are even-handed tools for deriving the meaning of the law as adopted by the legislature or the people.”
According to SCOTUSblog, Lee has voted against criminal defendants in death penalty cases and though he has not ruled in cases involving abortion regulations, he has indicated he is anti-abortion.
Edward Mansfield of Iowa, Supreme Court of Iowa
Mansfield, 61, was tapped to Iowa’s top court in 2011. He worked in private practice in the lead-up to his appointment to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 2009.
He has been described as an “intellectual anchor” among the Iowa Supreme Court’s conservative justices. In 2016, Mansfield dissented in a case involving sentences of life without parole for those who are convicted of first-degree murder as teenagers.
The state high court said such sentences violate the Iowa constitution.
Federico Moreno, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida
Born in Venezuela, Moreno was appointed to the federal district court in 1990. He was then nominated by Bush to the 11th Circuit, but his nomination languished and was never taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Before joining the federal bench, Moreno, 66, was a judge on the Dade County Court and served on the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida.
Kevin Newsom, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Newsom was confirmed as a judge on the Eleventh Circuit in August 2017, before which he worked in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama.
For more than three years, Newsom, 45, served as Alabama’s solicitor general. He clerked for Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. During his tenure as the solicitor general, Newsom was recognized with the “Best Brief Award” for his writing.
During his confirmation hearing for his nomination to the appellate court, Newsom was criticized for his stance on substantive due process, which has been invoked in cases involving same-sex marriage and abortion rights. He was also condemned by liberal advocacy groups for his positions on the death penalty.
Margaret Ryan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
Ryan, 54, served in the U.S. Marines for more than a decade, during which she fought in the Gulf War. She also worked as a judge advocate general, as well as trial counsel and chief trial counsel in Japan and Quantico, Va.
She clerked for Thomas on the Supreme Court and went on to work in private practice. Bush nominated Ryan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in 2006, and she was confirmed by unanimous consent.
David Stras of Minnesota, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Stras is another member of Trump’s Supreme Court short-list who was nominated to the appellate court by the president and confirmed in January.
Prior to joining the federal bench, Stras, 43, served on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Stras’s confirmation battle was messy, as former Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., opposed his nomination. He is considered an originalist.
In the run-up to his confirmation to the 8th Circuit, liberal advocacy groups urged the Senate not to confirm Stras, citing the process by which his nomination was considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Diane Sykes of Wisconsin, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Sykes, 60, was named to the 7th Circuit by Bush and confirmed in 2004. Prior to joining the federal bench, she served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The judge also has a background in journalism, having worked as a reporter for The Milwaukee Journal between college and law school. Sykes has described herself as a “judicial conservative.”
If selected by Trump, Sykes could face questions for her opinion in a 2006 case involving the Christian Legal Society at Southern Illinois University, which banned those who engaged in homosexuality from becoming members. The university revoked the group’s status as a student organization on the grounds it violated its nondiscrimination policies.
Skyes, though, wrote in the decision that the university’s action likely violated the Christian Legal Society’s First Amendment rights.
She was also part of a three-judge panel that allowed Wisconsin to reinstate its voter ID law just ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.
Timothy Tymkovich, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Bush nominated Tymkovich, 61, to the Denver-based appeals court in 2003, and he currently serves as its chief judge. In the early-to-mid 1990s, he served as the solicitor general of Colorado.
While working as the solicitor general, Tymkovich unsuccessfully argued a 1995 case before the Supreme Court involving an amendment to the state constitution that precluded the state government from enacting measures protecting LGBT people from discrimination.
Don Willett, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Known as a prolific tweeter, Trump appointed Willett, 51, to the 5th Circuit last year. Prior to becoming an appeals-court judge, Willett served on the Texas Supreme Court.
Willett is skeptical of judicial activism and is said to be a defender of economic liberty. In 2015, he joined the majority in a case striking down state licensing regulations for eyebrow threaders. In his concurrence, Willett cited Frederick Douglass and Pope Francis.
He is said to have close ties to Bush, having worked for him when he was governor and then when he went to the White House.
During his confirmation hearing last year, Willett was questioned about his tweets referencing bacon and former New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez.
Patrick Wyrick, Supreme Court of Oklahoma
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, appointed Wyrick, 37, to the state Supreme Court in 2017. Prior to joining Oklahoma’s highest court, he served as the solicitor general for the state, working alongside then-Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Pruitt is now the head of the EPA.
Trump nominated Wyrick to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, and his nomination is pending in the Senate.
Robert Young, Supreme Court of Michigan (Ret.)
Young, 67, recently served as the chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and in June, he was hired to serve as general counsel at Michigan State University.
The former judge served as the university’s special counsel during its investigation and legal battle involving former university doctor Larry Nassar, who was found guilty of sexually abusing female athletes. Young reportedly helped negotiate the university’s $500 million settlement with Nassar’s victims.
Like Larsen, he also recused himself from cases involving the recount requested by Stein. Young had also been included in the president’s initial list of possible Supreme Court nominees released during the presidential election. END QUOTES