WASHINGTON — There are some eyebrow-raising names on the list of possible picks for the U.S. Supreme Court released Wednesday by Republican candidate Donald Trump.
There’s the brother of a senator who can’t stand him. The ex-wife of one of his loudest critics on talk radio. And a judge who’s repeatedly mocked him in tweets.
One thing they have in common is that they’re conservatives.
Trump moved to reassure right-wingers within the Republican party grassroots who might doubt his fealty to their core principles of smaller government and social conservatism.
He took the unusual step of releasing a short list of 11 judges he might name to the Supreme Court, should he win the presidential election this fall.
The names are overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal organization that the late justice Antonin Scalia helped build. Trump pledged that he’d appoint one of those judges to Scalia’s vacant seat.
The stakes are high: ideological control of the court hangs in the balance, potentially affecting issues like gun rights, voting rules and political financing.
In a statement, Trump said the list was compiled based on input from respected conservatives and the Republican party leadership — two influential factions that had been cool to him.
“Justice Scalia was a remarkable person and a brilliant Supreme Court Justice,” Trump said.
“The following list of potential Supreme Court justices is representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value and, as president, I plan to use this list as a guide to nominate our next United States Supreme Court justices.”
A battle over Scalia’s replacement is currently deadlocked in the Senate. President Barack Obama has nominated a supposed ideological centrist, Merrick Garland, but the Republican-controlled chamber has refused to confirm him.
Some conservatives describe the vacancy as issue No. 1 of this election. Chief among them was Trump’s defeated Republican primary opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz.
One Cruz supporter — Sen. Mike Lee — said a few days ago that Trump “scares me to death” and explained that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to support his party’s nominee, who has in the past had liberal positions on fundamental issues like abortion and taxes.
Lee’s brother is now on the list.
In addition to Utah judge Thomas Lee, Trump’s list names Diane Sykes, the ex-wife of conservative talk-show host Charlie Sykes who promoted the anybody-but-Trump cause.
Then there was Texas judge Don Willett, who has repeatedly mocked the presumptive Republican nominee on Twitter. In one instance, the joking judge pretended to write a haiku poem speculating about who Trump might appoint to the high court.
“The mind reels,” Willett tweeted, before joking about being incapable of finishing the poem because he’d broken down in tears. In another tweet, he said he looked forward to Trump ripping off his face, like in the “Mission Impossible” movie, to reveal that he was liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Like virtually every other name on the list, Willett’s appears on the website of the Federalist Society — the country’s prime vehicle for advancing small-government legal thought.
One conservative critic says the list appears fantastic — if, indeed, you trust Trump.
“But if you trust Trump,” says Michael Graham, “you’re a chump.”
The conservative radio host from Atlanta and editor of the Weekly Standard podcast doesn’t believe Trump is either left-wing or right-wing.
He believes Trump has no core principles, doesn’t do any research on the issues, and just makes up policies on the fly.
“Do you think he’s really pro-abortion or anti-abortion or anything? Do you think he’s ever thought of that?” Graham said.
“That’s why he gave that idiotic answer (recently) about throwing women who try to get abortions in jail. He’s never thought about it.”