photo by Gage Skidmore
Donald Trump has revealed the names of the 11 judges he says he would consider for Supreme Court appointments during his prospective presidency.
I’m not on the list, and I’m outraged.
True, I am not a judge. Or a lawyer. And I only officially became a Republican after Barack Obama became president. But Trump is not a politician or a government official. And he didn’t become a Republican any sooner than I did. So why not me?
Trump’s list includes six judges appointed by George W. Bush to federal appeals courts and five state supreme court justices. Five of the 11 names also appeared on The Heritage Foundation’s list of suggestions for filling the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacated seat in the likely event that Senate Republicans hold firm to their promise of ignoring Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland.
Oh, and at least one of the list’s members is a prolific tweeter. Justice Don Willett of Texas has not shied away from making his opinion of the presumptive Republican nominee known in a variety of vivid ways. In a tweet from early April, Willett referred to him as “Darth Trump,” a joke I’d have made if I thought of it. Evidently Willett’s collection of tweets at Trump’s expense was not enough to keep him off the list.
Going into the general election, we already knew that Hillary Clinton would appoint justices in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Elena Kagan mold, were she given the chance. If you find such appointments acceptable as well as important, then you are not now and never will be a Trump voter.
But if you want someone else, Trump is literally the only game in town. Wednesday’s announcement is intended to show that he really favors justices more in the mold of Scalia or Chief Justice John Roberts – at least as far as we, and presumably Trump, can say for the time being. Sure, he might change his mind later; with Trump you never know. But like they ask in “Ghostbusters,” who you gonna call?
Well, me. But since I apparently did not make the cut, folks like the ones on Trump’s list will have to do. There simply are not any other options.
The list has also surprised some commentators in that it represents a fairly predictable collection of potential appointees. As Steve Vladeck, a CNN contributor and law professor at American University Washington College of Law, put it, “I would not have been surprised to see this exact list from almost any of the other Republican candidates.” You could say the same about very few choices in Trump’s campaign up to this point.
Releasing a list of prospective justices at this stage is itself unusual, however. One can debate the wisdom of Trump setting up his prospective picks as targets for Democratic opposition research, giving the political left ample time to identify, or if necessary to gin up, reasons Trump’s candidates should be utterly unacceptable in a civilized society. The Clinton campaign, which is struggling to unify the party, will certainly use Trump’s list to draw Bernie Sanders’ frustrated supporters back into the fold.
You could also debate the wisdom of making 10 of the judges on the list immediate also-rans as soon as Trump makes his first nomination. Or of making all of them also-rans if he picks someone else entirely. No one likes finishing second, especially not legal minds who have risen very close to the top of the heap.
Nobody has profited so far this political season by discounting Trump’s unorthodox but inarguably effective political wisdom. So why keep it up? Usually a candidate starts the primaries by appealing to the party’s established base and then moving to the center. This year, this candidate is starting with the center – that is to say, with people who have not been reliable GOP voters up until now – and is pivoting somewhat to appeal to the base. There may be more depth here than people know.
At least I know where I stand. I’m not going to break out the legal dictionary just yet.