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Who will Trump nominate to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Some possible contenders.

Crystal Hill
·7-min read

Hours after the announcement that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died Friday evening, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that if President Trump made a nomination, as he is expected to, McConnell would bring it up in the Senate, where Republicans have a 53-47 majority.

Who that nominee might be is anyone’s guess, and McConnell did not say whether Trump’s pick would be considered before the November election, which might make the president a lame duck. But Trump has released two lists of people he would consider for the next vacancy. The first list, which included future Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, was made public before the 2016 election. A supplemental list of names was released just this month.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the University of California at Berkeley last year. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

PHOTOS: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — A look back >>>

Ginsburg, the second woman to sit on the court, was a stalwart liberal and hero to many on the left, and in recent years she became an unlikely pop culture icon. With just weeks to go until the election, Trump will be under some pressure to nominate a woman to replace Ginsburg, although his lists also include several prominent male senators, including his former GOP primary rival Ted Cruz, a Texas senator.

Here are some possible candidates to replace Ginsburg on the Supreme Court:

Amy Coney Barrett

A judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals since 2017, Barrett is well known and widely admired by conservatives. Frequently mentioned as a possible contender for the high court, Barrett is a law professor at Notre Dame, her alma mater.

Barrett is a devout Catholic, and particularly popular among religious conservatives. Her religious beliefs led to a memorable confrontation during her 2017 confirmation hearings with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who told Barrett “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that is a concern.” But what gave Feinstein pause is the same thing many conservatives like about Barrett: That she is sincere and serious about her beliefs, and unlikely to shy away from them should she make it to the Supreme Court.

Born in 1972, Barrett would become the youngest member of the court and could potentially rule on cases for decades — another selling point in the eyes of conservatives.

Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz is on the list of potential Supreme Court nominees released by President Trump on Sept. 9. A Harvard Law graduate, Cruz rode the tea party wave to the U.S. Senate in 2013 and sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Before he became a lawmaker, he served as Texas solicitor general from 2003 to 2008, during which he argued eight cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cruz, though, said this week that he has no interest in joining the bench. When asked by Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo if he wants the job, Cruz said that serving on the bench is “not the desire of my heart.”

“I want to be in the political fight,” he said. “I want to be fighting to nominate and confirm three, four, five principled constitutionalist justices, but that’s not where I want to serve. I want to stay fighting right where I am in the U.S. Senate.”

Neomi Rao

Neomi Rao has served in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since March 2019, in a seat previously held by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She is a graduate of Yale College and the University of Chicago Law School and has served as White House counsel to President George W. Bush, and is considered a favorite of the Federalist Society, the conservative judicial organization that has been influential in Trump’s judicial picks.

Rao’s nomination to the Court of Appeals sparked controversy last year when her college opinion pieces surfaced in a BuzzFeed News report. BuzzFeed reported that Rao described affirmative action as the “anointed dragon of liberal excess” and, regarding date rape, said that if a woman “drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice.”

The writings prompted a heated line of questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris in February 2019. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Harris grilled Rao about her comments. Rao said avoiding excessive drinking is “just a way to make it less likely. It is not to blame the victim.”

Joan Larsen

Joan Larsen has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit since November 2017. Previously she was a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, to which she was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder in 2015.

The Waterloo, Iowa, native graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. In the 1990s, she clerked for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and spent several years teaching at the University of Michigan School of Law.

Like other Trump picks, Larsen’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals was met with opposition. In September 2017, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights published an open letter opposing her confirmation. The letter took issue with some of Larsen’s past opinions on cases involving LGBT plaintiffs. It also suggested she has suspect views on executive power, and would possibly be a “rubber stamp for President Trump’s executive actions.”

Thomas Hardiman

A judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Hardiman was shortlisted for the Supreme Court nomination that went to Neil Gorsuch in 2017. He was reportedly brought to Trump’s attention by his sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who worked alongside Hardiman on the Third Circuit.

Hardiman, an appointee of President George W. Bush, was the first member of his family to go to college and worked as a taxi driver to pay for law school. He is viewed as a relative moderate among the leading candidates, which might help his chances of confirmation in a closely divided Senate.

Josh Hawley

Elected to the Senate in 2018, Missouri Republican Josh Hawley quickly made a name for himself as a conservative firebrand and Trump ally. A former Missouri attorney general, his name appeared on Trump’s second list of potential Supreme Court picks.

Hawley is also one of the most outspoken Republican critics of big tech companies, and at age 40 is one of the youngest members of the Senate. He is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School and a member of the Federalist Society.

But Hawley is also a rising star in the Senate and is thought to have his eyes on the presidency. Like the other senators on Trump’s list, he is a long shot, in part because McConnell may need every Republican vote to confirm a pick — including Hawley’s.

Tom Cotton

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who is running for reelection this year, is another young conservative stalwart who made Trump’s list of possible nominees. An Army veteran who served in the infantry in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s also a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012 and the Senate two years later.

Cotton is a frequent guest on cable news shows and has earned a reputation as a strong Trump backer. Like Cruz and Hawley, however, Cotton is thought to have his own White House aspirations, and even did a swing through New Hampshire over the summer.

Additional contributions by Will Rahn

Cover thumbnail photo: Jeff Chiu/AP


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