Supreme Court pick a rallying cry at GOP convention

Chad Livengood, and Jonathan Oosting

Cleveland — Although Republicans have been divided over bombastic businessman Donald Trump, two arguments may improve GOP support of his presidential candidacy — defeating Hillary Clinton and building a stronger conservative grip on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republicans delegates and leaders attending the Republican National Convention this week are emphasizing that maintaining control of the nation’s highest court is the best reason to back the New York billionaire after a fractious primary campaign.

“If you’re not interested in Trump, you should be looking at the Supreme Court because if we lose that opportunity we probably won’t get it back,” said Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler, a delegate for Trump. “Your vote won’t be for Trump, it will be for the Supreme Court.”

The next president will get to choose at least one Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia, whose February death prompted the GOP-controlled Senate to block outgoing President Barack Obama’s pick of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland for the High Court.

“Do we want the late Antonin Scalia to be replaced by a liberal judge?” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked Tuesday night during her speech at the convention. Delegates on the convention floor shouted back: “No.”

After locking up the nomination in May, Trump took the unusual step of announcing a list of 11 jurists from which he would chose Scalia’s successor if elected. The list included Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Raymond Kethledge of Michigan.

“That list was very helpful,” said Judi Schwalbach of Escanaba, a delegate for Ohio Gov. John Kasich who was reluctant to support Trump. “The Supreme Court is just too important. ... We want his picks on the Supreme Court. We do not want Hillary’s picks.”

The potential nominees were “not particularly Trumpian,” said Matt Grossmann, political scientist and director of Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.

Prospective Supreme Court nominees tend to be a bigger issue for voters who consistently support Republican or Democratic candidates compared with independents who could swing the election, Grossmann said.

“It sounds like a euphemism for partisanship,” Grossmann said. “That is, something you say if you can’t think of any other reason to support Trump but you think he’s going to support ‘our team’ across all branches of government.”

‘Of, for and by the people’

Two of the eight Supreme Court justices are in their late 70s — Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy. In the past week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, publicly disparaged Trump to the delight of conservative court critics. Breyer and Ginsburg are appointees of Democratic former President Bill Clinton and have been reliably liberal jurists.

Kennedy, an appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1988, is considered the court’s swing vote on issues such as abortion and affirmative action college admission policies.

Dr. Ben Carson, a Detroit native and a Trump surrogate since ending his GOP presidential campaign, said Tuesday the aging justices give Republicans an opportunity to reshape the court’s legal viewpoints for a generation.

“The next president will probably get two to four Supreme Court picks,” Carson told The Detroit News.

“The Supreme Court has become very, very political, very ideological,” he said. “... It’s going to be a generational change. And it’s going to determine whether we’re a country that’s of, for and by the people or of, for and by the government.”

Carson said the makeup of the Supreme Court should give Trump’s Republican critics a reason to unite behind him.

“It’s a cry for people think beyond their own personal wounds and start thinking about the nation as a whole,” Carson told The News.

‘It’s all about Hillary’

Michigan Republican leaders who backed different candidates during the primary season acknowledge that defeating Clinton is more appealing than electing Trump.

“I think probably the biggest unifying force for the Republican Party is Hillary Clinton,” said Attorney General Bill Schuette, who initially supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush but is now firmly in the Trump camp.

Clinton’s recent escape from prosecution for her handling of classified information as secretary of state — and scathing criticism of her actions by FBI Director James Comey — has energized Republicans and given them another rallying cry.

The campaign to veer from party feuding was most evident during the convention’s Monday night session. Most speakers criticized what they say is the Obama administration’s failure to protect Americans from crime and terrorism — and Clinton’s promise to continue President Barack Obama’s policies.

But divisions remain among high-profile Republican leaders and rank-and-file members. Ohio Gov. John Kasich continued to avoid an endorsement of Trump at a Tuesday breakfast talk to Michigan’s delegates.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley has been a steadfast Trump supporter since endorsing him in May, defending the billionaire despite some of his more controversial comments. Calley initially endorsed Kasich.

“I think he would have made a great president,” Calley said of Kasich, “but at the end of our process here, Donald Trump was the winner. It’s important that we really unify behind him because we really can’t afford to go back to the old policies with Hillary Clinton.”

Wendy Day of Howell, state director for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s failed presidential campaign and part of a late push to deny Trump the nomination, said she thinks the party will unite this fall.

The Supreme Court is “a big issue, but to me, it’s all about Hillary,” Day said. “It’s about who she is as a crooked, criminal politician. It can’t happen. Hell no.”

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