From: politico.com, by Josh Gerstein, on Jan 3, 2017
Following are the eight candidates identified by people on the transition team as front-runners to replace late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
President-elect Donald Trump’s search for a nominee to replace late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is narrowing, with Trump and his advisers focused on about eight people out of 21 candidates Trump identified publicly as potential nominees.
Here’s a look at those who Trump transition insiders say are the leading contenders for the Supreme Court nod:
William Pryor, 54
Judge, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
Pryor is a standout favorite among many constitutional conservatives for his uncompromising, often caustic criticism of the leading liberal Supreme Court decisions. He has called Roe v. Wade, the 1973 abortion rights ruling, “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” As an outspoken elected attorney general of Alabama, he often blasted federal judges.
“The courts have imposed results on a wide range of issues, including racial quotas, school prayer, abortion and homosexual rights. Those issues belong in Congress and the state legislature,” he wrote in a 1997 Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Pryor made it onto the 11th Circuit in 2004 via a rare recess appointment from President George W. Bush after Senate Democrats blocked a vote on Pryor’s nomination for nearly a year. He was confirmed on a 53-45 vote in 2005 as part of the so-called “Gang of 13” deal that allowed approval of several stalled Bush judicial nominees but preserved the right to filibuster.
While Pryor’s record as an appeals court judge has been staunchly conservative, he surprised many legal observers in 2011 by joining a decision holding that some discrimination against transgender individuals is prohibited by constitutional doctrine forbidding sex discrimination.
Diane Sykes, 59
Judge, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
A former justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Sykes is considered to be near the top of Trump’s short list. She was part of a legal movement that helped set in motion a conservative transformation of the judiciary in her home state.
Sykes was confirmed to the 7th Circuit in 2004 and was reportedly on Bush’s Supreme Court short list if a vacancy emerged in the last couple years of his second term. On the appeals court, she issued a decision compelling a state-run university to recognize a Christian legal group as an official school organization even though the group banned leaders engaged in homosexuality or “fornication.”
Sykes also voted to reinstate Wisconsin’s voter ID law just eight weeks before the 2014 general election. The Supreme Court reversed that decision by a 6-3 vote, but the justices allowed the law to take effect once that election was complete.
Born in 1957, Sykes is the oldest of the potential nominees said to be on Trump’s short list. If nominated and confirmed in the coming months, she would be oldest successful nominee to make it on the court since President Clinton tapped 60-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993.
Raymond Kethledge, 50
Judge, 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
Kethledge, who joined the 6th Circuit in 2008, has attracted the attention of conservatives for several spirited rulings rejecting Obama administration positions in environmental and employment discrimination cases.
In 2014, Kethledge wrote an opinion rejecting a pathbreaking Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case seeking to limit private employers use of credit checks for job applicants. The EEOC argued that the practice amounted to race discrimination. Kethledge accused the agency of hypocrisy.
“In this case the EEOC sued the defendants for using the same type of background check that the EEOC itself uses,” he wrote, in a decision the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page hailed as a “legal smackdown.” (The defendants in the case were affiliates of the for-profit education firm Kaplan, owned at the time of the suit by the Washington Post Co.)
Last year, Kethledge issued a politically-charged ruling blasting the Obama administration for “continuous resistance” to efforts to discover what actions the IRS took against conservative nonprofit groups.
Kethledge’s resume includes something rarely seen on Trump’s SCOTUS list: a stint on Capitol Hill. The University of Michigan law school graduate spent a couple of years as a Judiciary Committee counsel to former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) before heading across the street to clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Joan Larsen, 48
Justice, Michigan Supreme Court
Larsen is the youngest of any of the reported Trump shortlisters, offering conservatives the possibility of installing a justice who could serve for three decades.
She also has the shortest judicial record of any of those considered finalists: She spent nearly all of her legal career as a law professor at the University of Michigan before being appointed to that state’s top court in September 2015, less than a year before Trump publicly named her as a potential Supreme Court pick.
Larsen took leave from the university post to work in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2002 to 2003, as that office was producing controversial opinions backing interrogation techniques many view as torture, such as waterboarding. She said she was not involved in those highly-classified opinions, but she did sign a still-unreleased opinion about the rights of war-on-terror prisoners to challenge their detention in the courts.
A Northwestern law grad, Larsen clerked for Scalia and after his unexpected death in February, she wrote a New York Times op-ed describing the experience and his central philosophy. “Justice Scalia believed in one simple principle: That law came to the court as an is not an ought. Statutes, cases and the Constitution were to be read for what they said, not for what the judges wished they would say,” she wrote.
Like many potential nominees, Larsen has been a regular at events sponsored by the conservative Federalist Society, which is playing a key role in Trump’s judicial vetting process. However, according to the Detroit Free Press, when she was named to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2015, she told reporters she wasn’t sure if she was a member of the society.
Last month, Larsen recused herself from a lawsuit over Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s demand for a recount in Michigan, citing her inclusion on Trump’s short list, but saying she has “had no contact with the president-elect, or his campaign, regarding the vacancy.”
Neil Gorsuch, 49
Judge, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Gorsuch is unusual on a list that is mostly devoid of candidates with ties to the coastal elite. The clerk to Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy is a Columbia, Harvard and Oxford graduate who spent a decade in private practice in Washington before taking a top Justice Department job. He was quickly confirmed to the 10th Circuit after being nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006.
While Gorsuch has more of a Washington resume than other Trump finalists, his family’s experience in the city was a searing one.
Gorsuch’s mother, Anne Burford Gorsuch, ran the Environmental Protection Agency at the outset of the Reagan administration. She was forced to resign in 1983, facing a criminal investigation and a House contempt of Congress citation over records related to alleged political favoritism in toxic-waste cleanups. She maintained her innocence and was never charged.
Steven Colloton, 53
Judge, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals
On a list decidedly short on Ivy League graduates, Colloton’s educational pedigree is notable. He got his undergraduate degree from Princeton, went to law school at Yale and served as a law clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
But the judge is also a product of the heartland, raised in Iowa City, Iowa, spending about eight years as a federal prosecutor in the state and later serving two years as U.S. Attorney in Des Moines before being tapped by Bush for the federal appeals court in 2003.
In 2015, Colloton parted with other judicial circuits when he joined a ruling rejecting the opt-out procedure the Obama administration set up for religious nonprofits objecting to providing birth control coverage. Last year, the Supreme Court sent that issue back to the appeals courts for further review.
Colloton also ruled that death row inmates have no right to information about the suppliers of drugs used in lethal injections unless those inmates can show that another execution method would be more humane.
One part of Colloton’s resume is sure to get close scrutiny from Democrats if he is picked for the high court: in the mid-1990s, he spent almost two years working for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated President Bill Clinton over Whitewater and his affair with a White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Raymond Gruender, 53
Judge, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals
Gruender, a former U.S. Attorney in St. Louis under Bush, has been a solidly conservative vote on the 8th Circuit since winning confirmation on a 97-1 vote in 2004. Before taking the U.S. Attorney post, he worked as a prosecutor there, handling white collar crime and corruption cases involving county council members, as well as lawyers and judges connected to a scandal in Missouri’s workers’ compensation system.
On the appeals court, Gruender wrote an en banc decision in 2008 upholding South Dakota’s “informed consent” law on abortion, and he later wrote an opinion stating that the state has the right to force doctors to tell women seeking abortions that they would be at risk of committing suicide if they underwent the procedure. (Colloton, who sits on the same court, also endorsed both those views.)
If Trump is looking for a compelling personal story, Gruender may fit the bill. His father worked as a janitor and a house painter, at one point paying his son 25 cents an hour to scrape paint.
That’s the milder part of the story. In 1986, his father grew enraged after his mother fled to avoid continued spousal abuse. During the argument, his father pulled a gun, shooting Gruender and his sister. The future judge’s father then committed suicide. Gruender suffered a damaged liver and kidney, but he recovered and soon returned to law school. (His sister also survived.)
Gruender is a St. Louis man through and through, born in the city, earning his undergraduate, MBA and law school degrees from Washington University there, and now maintaining his judicial chambers in the Gateway City.
Thomas Hardiman, 51
Judge, 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals
Hardiman spent about three years as a federal judge in Pittsburgh before being nominated to the 3rd Circuit in 2006. He’s one of the lesser-known judges still believed to be in active consideration for Trump’s first Supreme Court pick.
A 2007 ruling Hardiman wrote upheld the constitutionality strip searches of jail prisoners regardless of how minor an offense they were accused of. The Supreme Court later endorsed his decision, 5-4.
While Hardiman has backed First Amendment rights in the context of political donations, he took a narrower view in a 2010 suit over an arrest for videotaping a police officer during a traffic stop, holding that there was no clearly established First Amendment right to record such an event.
Hardiman won favor with gun rights advocates for a 2013 dissent that said New Jersey was violating the Second Amendment to the Constitution by requiring those seeking to carry a handgun to demonstrate a “justifiable need” for such a permit.
Trump may be able to get some special insights into Hardiman, since the president-elect’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, serves on the same appeals court. Hardiman graduated from Notre Dame and went to law school at Georgetown. His fans have noted that he drove a taxi to support himself while earning his law degree.
I’m currently working on another piece that should help those of us who aren’t familiar with the eight finalists for Trump’s first SC nomination. It’s not about the individuals, rather it’s about the U.S. Courts of Appeals (or, circuit courts) since seven of the eight finalists are appeal court justices. I just thought that it might help to flesh out the context of those judges who currently serve on one of the appeal courts. I expect to post it tomorrow.