Seizing on a campaign promise, President Donald Trump issued an updated list of 20 potential conservative nominees for the Supreme Court, a move meant to energize his base even though there is no current vacancy on the high court.
The new list includes three Republican senators (Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley) and former US solicitors general Paul Clement and Noel Francisco, as well as judges Trump has nominated to the lower courts.
Trump said the new names would be added to previous lists that include Judges Amy Coney Barrett and Amul Thapar, who are considered frontrunners should a vacancy arise.
The announcement highlights an issue the President believes has been one of his greatest accomplishments: changing the face of judiciary. As of Wednesday, Trump has appointed 205 federal judges including two Supreme Court nominees, according to a spokeswoman for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Apart from matters of war and peace, the nomination of a Supreme Court justice is the most important decision an American president can make," Trump said.
Trump repeatedly attacked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who has not released a similar list.
"Joe Biden has refused to release his list perhaps because he knows the names are so extremely far left that they could never withstand public scrutiny or receive acceptance," Trump said.
"Our cherished rights are at risk including the right to life and our great second amendment," Trump added.
Last July, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, announced that she was being treated for her fifth bout of cancer. In addition, Justice Stephen Breyer is 82 years old, Clarence Thomas is 72 and Samuel Alito is 70.
Underscoring the political stakes, Trump's announcement came hours after news broke that the President, in a series of interviews with Bob Woodward, admitted he knew weeks before the first confirmed US coronavirus death that the virus was dangerous, airborne and highly contagious, despite his public statements to the contrary.
Trump urged reporters to ask questions about the Supreme Court nominees, but none were asked and the President instead spoke about the Woodward book.
Who's on the list
Trump previously released lists of potential nominees, but Wednesday's release marks a departure from previous lists that for the most part were made up of judges with a solid record of court opinions. Trump has turned to Capitol Hill in adding Cruz, Cotton and Hawley.
He also included a former administration official, Gregory Katsas, a veteran of the White House Counsel's office who now sits on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Katsas is also former clerk to Thomas.
Trump turned to current officials in naming Kate Todd, who serves as deputy counsel to the President, and Christopher Landau, the US ambassador to Mexico.
Francisco, who stepped down as solicitor general at the end of last term, served as many controversial issues came to the court including disputes regarding the President's financial records, the travel ban, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, religious liberty and the addition of a citizenship question to the census.
Another new addition is Clement, former solicitor general during the Bush administration. One of the most experienced appellate advocates in the country he has argued over 100 cases before the court including those having to do with health care, religious liberty and voting rights. Some conservatives were surprised that Clement did not appear on previous short lists.
Judge Barbara Lagoa also appears on the new list. Trump appointed Lagoa to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019. Prior to that, Lagoa served as the first Hispanic woman and the first Cuban American woman on the Supreme Court of Florida.
Despite the new list, a source close to the process says that two judges, Barrett and Thapar, would be top contenders for a seat. A former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett was Trump's pick for a seat on the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
Born in 1972, she served as a professor of law at her alma mater, Notre Dame.
During her confirmation hearing, she had a contentious exchange with Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, who asked her about past writings concerning faith and the law. At one point, Feinstein asked Barrett if the "dogma lives loudly in her." Supporters of Barrett suggested Feinstein was attempting to apply a religious litmus test to the nominee.
Barrett is quoted in a 2013 publication affiliated with Notre Dame as saying she thinks it is "very unlikely at this point" that the court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Thapar, born in 1969, was handpicked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to serve as the US attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. In 2006, he went on to a seat on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Trump nominated Thapar to the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017. He was born in Michigan and served in government as well as private practice. In 2007, Thapar was the first American of South Asian descent to be named to an Article III federal judgeship.
Nan Aron, of the liberal Alliance for Justice, criticized the list in a statement, saying, "If there's one thing this president doesn't lie about, it's his eagerness to stack the courts with extremists prepared to carry out Republicans' conservative agenda, overturning access to health care and abortion."
But Mike Davis who runs the conservative group The Article III Project, praised Trump. "By issuing his updated Supreme Court list, President Trump is once again putting his cards on the table for the American people -- and again promising to pick Supreme Court justices who understand their crucial job in protecting us from government overreach," he said.