Breaking News

Introduction: Profiling potential nominees to succeed Justice Scalia

Last Tuesday the nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, pending since March 16, 2016, formally expired with the start of the 115th Congress. As a result, Donald Trump will have the opportunity upon his inauguration next Friday to fill the vacancy created almost a year ago by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

While still campaigning for president, Trump released two lists from which he is expected to choose his nominee for the open seat. Of the 21 names on Trump’s lists, the blog will profile nine judges frequently mentioned by journalists and commentators as front-runners for the nomination: Judge William Pryor, Judge Steven Colloton, Judge Raymond Gruender, Judge Neil Gorsuch, Judge Diane Sykes, Judge Thomas Hardiman, Judge Raymond Kethledge, Justice Thomas Lee and Justice Joan Larsen.

We chose to survey these nine individuals because of their judicial experience and their ages. All nine of these judges hail from a state supreme court or federal court of appeals. They range in age from 48 to 54 (with the exception of Sykes, who is 59). It seems likely that Trump would prefer to nominate a candidate who could be expected to remain on the court for at least a generation. For context, Scalia passed away at age 78 after nearly 30 years on the Supreme Court bench.

Each piece will outline the judge’s biography and provide an analysis of cases involving a variety of salient topics we expect the Supreme Court to consider in the coming years. We selected cases by reviewing the opinions either voted on or written by each of the judges in areas including the death penalty, immigration, abortion, birth control, the commerce clause, elections, the Second Amendment, LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. For some judges, due to volume, we focused only on their reported opinions.

Our research found that eight of the nine judges have strong conservative leanings on all of the reviewed topics. (Because Larsen took her seat on the Michigan Supreme Court only recently, in October 2015, her record as a judge is too slim to provide a basis for analysis; our profile will therefore focus on Larsen’s earlier career.) For instance, all eight judges whose judicial records we reviewed tend to favor states over criminal defendants in capital cases. We also found several rulings that might be considered surprising. For example, Pryor once joined an opinion holding that Georgia officials violated the equal protection clause when they fired an employee for being transgender. We expect Trump will announce his nominee shortly after the inauguration.

Recommended Citation: Molly Runkle and Andrew Hamm, Introduction: Profiling potential nominees to succeed Justice Scalia, SCOTUSblog (Jan. 9, 2017, 3:22 PM),