Editorial: Trump’s would-be justices

The Detroit News

Some Republicans who are reluctantly lining up behind their presumptive presidential nominee offer the rationale that they’d rather have Donald Trump appointing justices to the Supreme Court than Democrat Hillary Clinton. That’s not an insignificant consideration, considering the next president, due to the ages of the current justices and the existing vacancy, may have two or more appointments.

The candidate sought to provide some insight this week into what he likes in a justice by taking the unusual step of releasing a list of 11 names he said represent his preferences.

There are traditional conservatives on the list of federal and state judges, as well as libertarians. Some are committed to judicial restraint, and others have been more activist.

In other words, it is too much of a something-for-everyone list to draw any firm conclusions about what Trump is thinking.

And he said himself that the 11 are merely examples of what he’d be looking for in an appointee. He did not commit to drawing a name from the list.

Trump asked a variety of Republican and conservative groups, including the national party, the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, for guidance in selecting the names. That helps explain the range in judicial philosophy among those who made the cut.

There are enough temperate, principled conservatives on the list to be encouraged. Start that group with Michigan’s own Joan Larsen, who was tapped earlier this year by Gov. Rick Snyder to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court.

The former University of Michigan law professor clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose death this spring created the current opening. She has conservative bonafides, but is not an ideologue. Larsen is the prototype of a rule of law judge that conservatives always say they are seeking for the court. She hardly fits the description of a right wing frother that the left has applied to Trump’s list. The other Michigan native, federal Appeals Judge Raymond Kethledge of the Sixth Circuit, is a safe choice.

Atlanta-based Federal Court Judge William Pryor of Alabama, on the other hand, might. He is an ardent opponent of abortion rights and once said in a legal brief that it would be OK for Texas to prosecute gays as criminals.

There’s even one anti-Trump judge on the list—Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court has developed a large following for his Twitter posts mocking the billionaire.

There are some notable absences from the list, including Jeff Sutton of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, whom Scalia once predicted would be the first of his clerks to reach the High Court. Also, Paul Clement, former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, is a conservative favorite.

But Trump’s list is out there. Clinton has not indicated whether she’ll provide examples of potential justices as well. But she gave a hint of her mind-set after President Barack Obama nominated Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland to replace Scalia.

Garland is a well-respected centrist who should, by the way, get a hearing from the Senate. Clinton said at the time of his nomination she would prefer more liberal justices who would help her reshape the country.

The candidates are right that the appointment of Supreme Court justices will be among the most impactful decisions the next president will make. Voters should pay attention to what the candidates are thinking on the matter.