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A Guide to Trump's 11 Supreme Court Picks, Including the Judge Who Mocks Him on Twitter

Nearly all of Donald Trump's potential Supreme Court nominees are male, and they include a Texas judge who has repeatedly made fun of him on Twitter.

by Sarah Mimms
May 18 2016, 9:45pm

Photo by Justin Foley/EPA

Donald Trump listed 11 candidates on Wednesday that he could name to the US Supreme Court if he is elected president.

The list of potential nominees to fill the vacancy caused by Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February includes conservative federal judges with strong views against abortion, in line with Trump's assertion that he would seek a nominee who is "pro-life" and could overturn Roe v. Wade.

Several of the candidates previously held clerkships at the US Supreme Court, including Joan Larsen, who worked under Scalia himself. All 11 candidates are white, and three of them are women.

Trump promised earlier this year that he would name "judges that everybody respects, likes and totally admires" and that he would "guarantee" that he will nominate one or more of the judges on that list if elected.

The names also come just two weeks after Trump became the party's presumptive nominee and as he is working to assuage concerns among Republicans about his conservative credentials. The list "is representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value," he said in a statement Wednesday.

Trump said that he would consult with the conservative Heritage Foundation to help him narrow down a list of potential candidates. And his list released Wednesday includes five of the eight nominees that the group suggested as potential replacements for Justice Antonin Scalia back in March.

Don Willett of Texas
Willett, 49, is a current Supreme Court of Texas Justice and a prodigious Twitter user. He has more than 36,000 followers, and he has used the platform to mock the very man who just said he'd made a great Supreme Court justice.

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Willett is a former adviser to George W. Bush, whom he counseled on various legal and policy issues during Bush's tenure as governor of Texas. Willett then followed Bush to the White House, where he served in various roles, including as special assistant to the president, where he provided legal counsel on religious liberty and other issues.

Willett also worked at the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and was a deputy assistant attorney general for legal policy at the Justice Department in the early 2000s. Willett later returned to Texas, where he went on to serve as a deputy attorney general for legal counsel before he was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court in 2005. He was elected to a full term in 2006.

Joan Larsen of Michigan
Larsen, 47, is an associate justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, who formerly clerked for Scalia and spoke at his memorial service in Washington, DC, in March.

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Larsen taught at Northwestern University Law School before she was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2015. She is up for reelection to the court this November.

Before joining the state supreme court, Larsen worked as a deputy US attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, which provided legal justification for the Bush administration's use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, including waterboarding.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has questioned Larsen's previous work, arguing that she had authored a secret memo in 2002 regarding detainee rights, according to the Detroit Free Press. The ACLU called on Larsen to disclose any role she played in the authorization of "torture, warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention and other abuse" during her time at DOJ, the paper reported.

Larsen has denied any involvement with those memos and policies.

Thomas Lee of Utah
Lee, 51, would be well-known to many senators if he is ever nominated to serve on the Supreme Court; he is the brother of Utah Senator Mike Lee and the son of former US Solicitor General Rex Lee.

Senator Ted Cruz had said publicly that he would consider Senator Lee for the Supreme Court vacancy, and the Heritage Foundation recommended him as well, but Trump appears to be more interested in his brother, the Associate Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court.

Thomas Lee, like his brother, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, Lee clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In 2011, Lee authored a majority opinion declaring an unborn fetus a "minor child" in wrongful death suits. He also argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the Bush administration against a series of lawsuits filed on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, seeking to take their cases out of military tribunals and hand them to civilian courts. The Supreme Court sided against Lee and the Bush administration.

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William Pryor of Alabama
Trump mentioned Pryor as a potential Supreme Court candidate at a Republican presidential debate earlier this year, following Scalia's death.

Pryor, 54, served as the Attorney General of Alabama for seven years. He drew national headlines in 2003, when he called for the resignation of then-Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and prosecuted him for refusing to follow a court order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building.

Pryor's appointment to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in 2003 was contentious, and his nomination to the Supreme Court could be similarly fraught. Democrats objected to Pryor's nomination over his assertion that the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade was "the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law," and his feeling that the high court (which he referred to as a group of "nine octogenarian lawyers") should not make decisions about state death penalty laws, according to Democrats also balked at a Supreme Court brief Pryor authored, in which he compared homosexuality to "prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest and pedophilia," according to a Washington Post story published at the time.

But Pryor told senators that he was able to make decisions based on the law, rather than his personal feelings. Bush put Pryor on the bench in a controversial recess appointment, circumventing the Senate altogether.

Pryor has a strong pro-life record. In a 2002 survey of attorneys general across the country, Pryor said that "abortion should be legal only when the life of the woman is endangered," according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, which conducted the survey. In 2014, he authored a unanimous ruling by a panel of judges on the Eleventh Circuit court preventing the Obama administration from enforcing the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate on a Catholic television station.

Diane Sykes of Wisconsin
Trump also name-dropped Sykes, 58, in a presidential debate back in February and brought her up again as a possible Supreme Court nominee in a Meet the Press interview shortly afterward.

Sykes was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1999 and was bumped up to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by Bush five years later. Sykes had a much smoother confirmation process than Pryor did, earning a 70-27 vote to put her on the federal bench.

Sykes is often noted for her ruling in Ezell v. City of Chicago, which declared that the city's attempt to ban firing ranges was unconstitutional. She was also the sole dissenter in a Wisconsin Supreme Court case overturning a man's conviction after the defense pointed out that one of the jurors had said he could not speak English.

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Sykes is also a well-known opponent of abortion rights, and ruled in favor of exempting two companies owned by the Catholic Church from the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate in 2013.

Steven Colloton of Iowa
Colloton, 53, was appointed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 by Bush and was confirmed in the Senate on an overwhelming 94-1 vote. He was also one of the judges on the Heritage Foundation's list of recommendations.

Before becoming a judge, Colloton worked under Kenneth Starr on the team of lawyers who led the investigation into former president Bill Clinton's Whitewater investments, which eventually turned into the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

Colloton wrote the majority opinion in a 2014 Missouri case concerning the controversial method of lethal injections. The court ruled against a group of inmates who argued that Missouri should stop using the chemical pentobarbital in executions because it caused an excruciating death. In its decision, the court ruled that death row inmates do not have the right to be informed of alternative execution methods.

This is not the first time Colloton has been floated for a possible Supreme Court appointment. He was also on 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney's shortlist.

Raymond Gruender of Missouri
In 2003, George Bush nominated Gruender to the federal court of appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Gruender, 52, was previously a US Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, and is another of the Heritage Foundation's recommendations.

Several of Gruender's prominent decisions have concerned reproductive issues, specifically enforcing restrictions on abortion and contraceptive access. In 2005, he authored an opinion ruling that employers' failure to cover the cost of female contraceptives does not amount to sex discrimination under Title VII. That decision has been cited in the debate over whether the Affordable Care Act should cover the cost of birth control.

In another case, Gruender ruled that South Dakota's requirement for abortion providers to inform patients that the procedure terminates the life of a whole human being before performing an abortion was constitutional.

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Gruender has a notable personal life story. He grew up in a poor household with an abusive father, who was violent toward his mother. When Gruender was in college, his father shot both him and his sister and then committed suicide. This led Gruender to get involved in anti-domestic violence initiatives, including joining the board of Alternatives to Living in Violent Environments (ALIVE), an organization committed to protecting domestic violence victims.

Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania
Bush appointed Hardiman to the federal court of appeals for the Third Circuit in 2007. Before his appointment, Hardiman was a US District judge for Pennsylvania.

Many of Hardiman's noteworthy decisions involve policing and criminal justice issues, several of which eventually made their way to the US Supreme Court. Hardiman, 50, ruled in Kelly v. Borough of Carlisle in 2010, for example, that the First Amendment does not permit citizens to film police officers and that such video does not amount to evidence against police in a civil rights case.

David Stras of Minnesota
At just 41 years old, Stras is the youngest candidate on Trump's list of potential Supreme Court nominees, and would potentially have a long career on the nation's highest court.

Stras is an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court and its only Jewish member. He previously taught law at the University of Minnesota Law School. Earlier in his career, Stras practiced law in Washington, DC, and clerked on various federal courts, including for Thomas on the Supreme Court.

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Conservative attorney Carrie Severino praised Stras in the National Review column during his 2012 election to the Minnesota bench, writing that his record "demonstrates a commitment to limited, constitutional government and the notion that judges should decide cases based on the Constitution and its original meaning."

Raymond Kethledge of Michigan
Kethledge, 49, is a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. He previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in 1997.

Kethledge has worked both in private practice and as a public servant, including as counsel to then-Senator Spencer Abraham, a Republican of Michigan, in a role that allowed him to work on matters related to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which confirms nominees to the Supreme Court. Kethledge was nominated to his current position by Bush in 2006, and was confirmed a unanimous Senate vote in 2008.

Kethledge has ruled in many fraud cases, including a notable decision last May when the court upheld a $112 million judgment against a Ponzi scheme dealer who scammed victims into buying fraudulent Saudi oil investments.

In 2014, Kethledge ruled against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which had sued the for-profit education company Kaplan for conducting credit and criminal background checks it claimed discriminated against minorities.

Allison Eid of Colorado
Eid, 51, has served as an associate justice on the Colorado Supreme Court since 2006. She was appointed by Republican Governor Bill Owens and was elected to keep the post with an overwhelming 75 percent of the vote in 2008. Eid previously served as Colorado's Solicitor General and taught at the University of Colorado's law school.

Although she is one of the less experienced names to grace Trump's list, Eid is no stranger to Washington, DC. She was the speechwriter for former US Secretary of Education, William Bennett in the Reagan Administration, and she also clerked for Thomas on the Supreme Court.

Additional reporting by Liz Fields and Olivia Becker.

Follow Sarah Mimms on Twitter: @SarahMMimms

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