The high court is currently divided 5-4 between conservatives and liberals. While there is no current vacancy on the court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, has been undergoing cancer treatment, and three other members of the court are in their 70s and 80s.
Trump has already remade the federal bench for a generation. And any vacancy in the highest court would give the president the ability to shape its future for decades to come if he is reelected in November.
Trump has stressed that power as he has campaigned, claiming the winner of the upcoming presidential election “could have anywhere from two to four, to maybe even five” Supreme Court justices to pick, though that would require an extraordinary level of turnover.
“You will change this country around. It will be irreversible,” he said last month in Minnesota.
Trump released two lists with a total of 21 names of potential Supreme Court nominees during his previous presidential campaign and added another five names in 2017 after becoming president. Trump’s two nominees to the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, were both drawn from Trump’s list.
Even in a race reshaped by the pandemic and the national reckoning over race, Trump’s appointments of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh remain among his crowning achievements and are frequently noted at his rallies.
The cultural battle over Kavanaugh’s confirmation, in particular, remains an electrifying moment for many on the right and one that Trump continues to highlight as he tries to replicate the excitement that fight generated on the right and make the race an us-vs.-them battle over American values and cancel culture.
“Did you ever see anything like that? Justice Kavanaugh. People forget. You know, time goes by, they forget. We don’t forget. I don’t forget,” Trump told a rally crowd last month in New Hampshire. “They’re destroying the livelihoods of innocent people.”
For the president’s allies, the list is seen as a way to excite his base as well as remind voters of what’s at stake in November.
“I think it’s a very important way for the president to reaffirm his commitment to an issue that many conservatives and Republicans see as a priority,” said Leonard Leo, the longtime executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society who participated in the Kavanaugh and Gorsuch confirmations. “This a great way to remind people of the legacy he’s already established for himself in this area.”
Biden has promised to nominate a Black woman to the high court if given the chance. Biden, too, has said he’s working on a list of potential nominees, but the campaign has given no indication that it will release names before the November election. Democrats believe doing so would unnecessarily distract from Biden’s focus on Trump’s handling of the pandemic and the economy, while also giving the president and his allies fresh targets to attack.
“We are putting together a list of a group of African American women who are qualified and have the experience to be in the court. I am not going to release that until we go further down the line of vetting them as well,” Biden said in June.
Biden advisers acknowledge the Supreme Court vacancy four years ago helped Trump with white evangelicals and some Chamber of Commerce Republicans who disliked the first-time candidate or were wary of his conservative credentials. This year, Biden’s team sees those same groups as less up for grabs. Many remain firmly with Trump, they reason, while others already have bailed on him and won’t be wooed back by another list of potential justices for a vacancy that doesn’t yet exist.
But Trump pushed back. He said that, apart from “matters of war and peace, the nomination of a Supreme Court justice is the most important decision an American president can make” and that, “For this reason, candidates for president owe the American people a specific list of individuals they’d consider for the United States Supreme Court.”
Here is the president’s list of additional Supreme Court candidates:
Bridget Bade, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Daniel Cameron, 51st attorney general of Kentucky
Tom Cotton, U.S. senator from Arkansas
Paul Clement, partner with Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Ted Cruz, U.S. senator from Texas
Stuart Kyle Duncan, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Steven Engel, assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice
Noel Francisco, former solicitor general of the United States
Josh Hawley, U.S. senator from Missouri
James Ho, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Gregory Katsas, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Barbara Lagoa, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Christopher Landau, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the United Mexican States
Carlos Muñiz, justice on the Supreme Court of Florida
Martha Pacold, judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Peter Phipps, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Sarah Pitlyk, judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri
Allison Jones Rushing, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Kate Todd, deputy assistant to the president and deputy counsel to the president
Lawrence VanDyke, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit