In May of 2016, when then-candidate Donald Trump was putting the Supreme Court front and center in his presidential campaign, he released a “much-anticipated list of people he would consider as potential replacements for Justice Scalia at the United States Supreme Court.” On this initial list of 11 people was a relatively little-known name, that of Judge Thomas Hardiman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Over the last ten days, Hardiman has emerged as one of the front-runners for the nomination.
Hardiman, who is 51, was born in Winchester, Massachusetts, and was raised in Waltham. His father ran a taxicab and school transportation company, for which his mother kept the books; Hardiman would later reportedly finance his law degree by driving a taxi. He went to Waltham High School and was the first person in his family to go to college — at the University of Notre Dame, where he was a Notre Dame Scholar – a merit-based award that, according to the school’s website, goes to “exceptional students who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement.” Hardiman earned his law degree at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he was Notes and Comments editor of the Georgetown Law Journal, in 1990. If nominated and confirmed, Hardiman would be the only justice without an Ivy League degree on his résumé.
After his law school graduation, Hardiman worked for two years as an associate in the Washington office of Skadden Arps. He then moved to Pittsburgh, where he joined the smaller firm of Titus & Cindrich (later known as Titus & McConomy). When that firm dissolved, he joined Reed Smith, a firm that was founded in Pittsburgh but now has offices worldwide, and stayed there until 2003, engaging primarily in civil litigation. On the questionnaire he submitted during his confirmation hearings for the 3rd Circuit, Hardiman stated that he “gained specialized knowledge in real estate litigation” during this period. While in private practice in Pittsburgh, Hardiman served as a hearing officer for the disciplinary board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and became active in Republican politics, serving as the treasurer of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County from 2000-2003.
In 2003, at the age of 37, Hardiman was nominated by President George W. Bush to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania; he was confirmed by the Senate by a voice vote. Four years later, Bush nominated Hardiman to the 3rd Circuit, and, after uncontroversial hearings, he was confirmed by a vote of 95-0. One of Hardiman’s colleagues on the court of appeals is Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, the president’s sister, who is reported to have put in a good word on his behalf.
While in private practice, Hardiman provided no-cost legal services to a variety of clinics. A fluent Spanish speaker who studied in Mexico while in college, Hardiman worked with Ayuda, a legal aid clinic in Washington, representing low-income Spanish-speaking immigrants, on (among others) domestic violence and political asylum cases. At his 2003 Senate confirmation hearing, he described one of his immigration cases for Ayuda as “one of the most important cases I have ever handled.” And in the mid-1990s, Hardiman worked with one of his partners to try to stave off the execution of a man convicted of murdering a mother and her two children. The death sentences were later overturned (although Hardiman was no longer working on the case), and the inmate eventually died in prison while the state’s appeals were pending. Other cases on which Hardiman worked in private practice have been more controversial: A 2003 article in the Pittsburgh City Paper raised questions about Hardiman’s role in defending a challenge to a Ten Commandments plaque on public property, as well as his role opposing housing discrimination cases.
Since his appointment to the 3rd Circuit, Hardiman has demonstrated solid conservative credentials, endorsing a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms and affirming the ability of students to express their religious beliefs in public schools. At a recent Federalist Society convention, at which Hardiman moderated a panel on labor and employment law, he reportedly hailed the late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania as an influential force in his career.
Hardiman’s wife Lori is from a well-connected Democratic family in Pennsylvania. The Hardimans have three children; the older two are both students at Notre Dame, and the youngest is a sophomore in high school. Hardiman has headed the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program; he has also served as a “Big Brother” himself.
Edith Roberts contributed to the research for this post.