President of the United States
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 Trump faced an immediate vacancy on the Supreme Court due to the February 2016 death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. During the 2016 campaign, Trump released two lists of potential nominees to the Supreme Court. After taking office, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to succeed Scalia on January 31, 2017. Gorsuch was confirmed on April 7 and sworn in on April 10, 2017.
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 and the subsequent opinion of Senate Republicans that the new president should appoint Scalia's replacement. Three of the Court's justices—Ruth Bader Ginsburg (born 1933), Anthony Kennedy (born 1936) and Stephen Breyer (born 1938)—are or will soon turn 80, a fact that has stoked speculation that additional vacancies may occur during Trump's four-year presidential term. Because two of these justices (Ginsburg and Breyer) are part of the liberal wing of the Court and Kennedy is a swing vote who often aligns with them on social issues, many top political analysts see Trump's term as a chance for Republicans to reshape the court significantly towards a more conservative vision of the law.
The Supreme Court is composed of the following nine justices:
|Name||Age||Serving since||Appointed by||Law School (JD or LLB)|
|Roberts, JohnJohn Roberts
|62||2005||George W. Bush||Harvard University|
|Kennedy, AnthonyAnthony Kennedy||81||1988||Ronald Reagan||Harvard University|
|Thomas, ClarenceClarence Thomas||69||1991||George H. W. Bush||Yale University|
|Ginsburg, Ruth BaderRuth Bader Ginsburg||84||1993||Bill Clinton||Columbia University[note 1]|
|Breyer, StephenStephen Breyer||78||1994||Bill Clinton||Harvard University|
|Alito, SamuelSamuel Alito||67||2006||George W. Bush||Yale University|
|Sotomayor, SoniaSonia Sotomayor||63||2009||Barack Obama||Yale University|
|Kagan, ElenaElena Kagan||57||2010||Barack Obama||Harvard University|
|Gorsuch, NeilNeil Gorsuch||49||2017||Donald Trump||Harvard University[note 2]|
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 Supreme Court nomination during the last year of a presidency.
Mitch McConnell (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, Trump released a short list of eleven judges for nomination to the Scalia vacancy. On September 23, 2016, Trump 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 were appointed by President George W. Bush. 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. President Trump announced Gorsuch as his nominee on January 31. Gorsuch was confirmed by the United States Senate in a 54-45 vote. Gorsuch was sworn in as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on April 10.
Below is a list of individuals who have been mentioned in various news accounts as the most likely potential nominees for a Supreme Court appointment under Trump. Most (but not all) of them were included on one of the two lists of potential nominees Trump released during the 2016 campaign.
Following the nominations of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and Amul Thapar to the Sixth Circuit, it was noted that Trump might try to season some of the candidates on his original lists with federal Circuit Court experience prior to another possible Supreme Court vacancy. He later nominated Joan Larsen and David Stras to the Sixth and Eighth Circuits, respectively.
Despite speculation that Trump might consider other candidates for a possible second Supreme Court nomination, Trump has said he will make his next appointment from the same list he used to choose Gorsuch (i.e., 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.
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 dagger (†) were not included on either of these short lists.
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