Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He covered Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States in 2015, and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 2014. He has reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, including from Jordan and Lebanon on an Egan Fellowship from Catholic Relief Services. Before coming on board the Register in 2013, he was a freelance writer, reporting for Catholic media outlets as the Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Christendom College, where he co-founded the student newspaper, The Rambler, and served as its editor. He comes originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
Donald Trump, the GOP’s presumed nominee for the presidency, has released his list of 11 potential judge picks to succeed Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. The announcement, first broken by the Associated Press, comes in the middle of an effort by Trump to unify a GOP coalition, where a number of its conservative and pro-life constituents have expressed reservations about supporting him in November’s presidential election.
“Justice Scalia was a remarkable person and a brilliant Supreme Court Justice. His career was defined by his reverence for the Constitution and his legacy of protecting Americans’ most cherished freedoms. He was a Justice who did not believe in legislating from the bench and he is a person whom I held in the highest regard and will always greatly respect his intelligence and conviction to uphold the Constitution of our country,” Trump stated on his website.
The next U.S. president may also have to replace three other justices in the coming years: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, Anthony Kennedy is 79, and Stephen Bryer is 77. All three justices are solid votes in favor of abortion and same-sex marriage as constitutional rights.
Trump added the following list is “representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value” and he plans to “use this list as a guide to nominate our next United States Supreme Court Justices.”
Among the most well known jurists is William Pryor, a Catholic federal appeals court judge from Alabama, who has served on the 11th circuit court since 2004. Pryor has called Roe v. Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.”
Diane Sykes, also a Catholic federal judge serving on the 7th circuit court since 2004, and was once considered a potential pick for the high court by President George W. Bush.
Sykes was also involved in the HHS Mandate cases, and according to professor Hadley Arkes, pointed out that the federal government had many different means of diffusing contraceptives to the population, rather than burdening religious employers with the responsibility.
Next up is Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who like Trump, has a penchant for tweeting profusely. Ironically, Willett also has a lengthy Twitter history of mocking Trump for months, including this one tweet on Trump’s potential nominees for the Supreme Court:
“Donald Trump haiku— Who would the Donald Name to #SCOTUS? The mind reels. *weeps—can't finish tweet*”
The other picks are less well known, but have received favorite plaudits from pro-life and conservative activist organizations.
Judge Raymond Gruender, is another Catholic jurist sitting on the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, since his appointment by President Bush in 2004.
Steven Colloton of Iowa, serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Pryor, Sykes, Willett, Colloton, and Gruender were five justices recommended by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank based in Washington, D.C.
The other two federal appeals court judges on Trump’s list are Thomas Hardiman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Pennsylvania), and Raymond Kethledge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Michigan).
The final four on the list serve on state supreme courts. Justice Joan Larsen serves on the Michigan Supreme Court; Justice Thomas Lee serves on the Utah Supreme Court, and Justice David Stras serves on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Allison Eid, a supreme court justice for the state of Colorado, is a former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. Eid wrote the dissent in the Colorado Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision to uphold the anti-Catholic Blaine amendment, which was used to prevent poor children from using voucher grants to attend private schools. Eid stated that the majority “simply stuck its head in the sand and hopes that because it cannot see the allegations of anti-Catholic bias, no one else will.”
In a statement sent to the Register, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser, commented, “This is an exceptionally strong list of jurists with immense respect for our founding documents. We are encouraged by Mr. Trump’s repeated pledges to appoint constitutionalists, which stands in sharp contrast to Hillary Clinton’s position. There is no question Clinton would only nominate judges who stand in lock-step with the abortion lobby and would strike down even the most modest abortion limits.”
It appears that SBA List, which had opposed Trump during the GOP primary for many reasons including his vulgar remarks toward women, is gearing up to line up behind Trump if it means getting justices on the high court that would overturn Roe. Dannenfelser stated, “SBA List is already working to make the case to pro-life voters that the Court matters and must be protected. This is not an election for pro-lifers to sit out.”
Writing in National Review Online, Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, expressed “serious doubts” about Trump’s vision of constitutional law, and was only “cautiously optimistic.”
“Mr. Trump stopped short of guaranteeing that he would pick someone from this list. In March, he unequivocally promised, ‘I will pick, 100 percent pick’ from the list. Now, he would only say that these jurists will serve as a ‘as a guide to nominate our next’ justice, and that the list was ‘representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value.’”
Blackman went on to say that he could only give Trump “two cheers.”
“If Mr. Trump wants the third cheer, he must convince us that this will not end up as a ‘If you like your justices, you can keep your justices’ promise. This must be a promise to keep.”
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