Skip to main content

Everything You Need to Know About the New Additions to Trump’s SCOTUS Shortlist


President Donald Trump announced a Who’s Who of conservative leaders and legal professionals as potential Supreme Court picks as part of his 2020 reelection campaign on Wednesday.

As in 2016, Trump’s showmanship on this subject is widely viewed as a renewed effort to firm up support from his base, particularly among social conservatives, Second Amendment supporters, and religious liberty advocates. Here’s what we know about the 20 names the 45th president added to his existing list (Amy Coney Barrett et al.) of potentials should have the opportunity to appoint a third justice of the nation’s high court.

1. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron

The 34-year-old Cameron is Kentucky’s first Black attorney general. He recently came under fire in the Bluegrass State from Black Lives Matter protesters over perceptions he has slow-walked the state’s investigation into the Louisville police killing of Breonna Taylor.

A booster of Trump, Cameron recently appeared at the Republican National Convention to launch a blistering attack on Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden–by referencing the latter’s controversial comments that suggested Black people who vote for Trump are traitors to their race. “Mr. Vice President look at me, I am Black,” Cameron said. “We are not all the same, sir. I am not in chains. My mind is my own. And you can’t tell me how to vote because of the color of my skin.”

Cameron earned his JD at the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.

2. Former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement

The 54-year-old Clement served as solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration and has argued over 100 cases before the Supreme Court. A member of the elite legal establishment, Clement has also represented NBA and NFL players. He is, however, extremely conservative and was tapped as the lead attorney representing congressional Republicans in 2011 who were seeking to defend the constitutionality of the anti-LGBTQ Defense of Marriage Act after the Barack Obama administration declined to enforce the law.

Long rumored as a potential Supreme Court nominee during a Republican presidency, Clement’s appointment would be something like a reward for a lifetime of service to the conservative legal movement. While attending Harvard Law School, he oversaw the publication of an article in the university’s law review that mocked the grizzly murder of a prominent feminist law professor on the one-year anniversary of her death. He would go on to clerk for then-Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia a few months later.

3. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)

The 43-year-old Cotton is a bellicose, hawkish Republican senator and lawyer who caused a storm of controversy when he argued in an op-ed for the New York Times that Trump should send the military into American cities and conduct combat missions against Black Lives Matter protesters. Generally considered a reliable ally of the president’s, Cotton votes with Trump’s position nearly 90-percent of the time. After being mentioned in the president’s list of potential nominees, he completed the social conservative’s dream-chemical-fueled acid-test by tweeting: “It’s time for Roe v. Wade to go.”

“I’m honored that President Trump asked me to consider serving on the Supreme Court and I’m grateful for his confidence,” Cotton added in a statement. “I will always heed the call of service to our nation. The Supreme Court could use some more justices who understand the difference between applying the law and making the law, which the Court does when it invents a right to an abortion, infringes on religious freedom, and erodes the Second Amendment.”

Cotton got his JD from Harvard Law School.

4. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

The 49-year-old Cruz is another two-fisted conservative. Generally considered an adherent–or at least promoter–of the dominionist interpretation of Christianity, Cruz and those of similar persuasion say their goal is to bring America back to being a “Christian nation” through ascendancy in the media, legal system and so on.

Cruz’s family was famously and repeatedly mocked by Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries. But that political sparring has appeared to create a lasting bond between Trump and Cruz. Cruz has voted with Trump’s position over 90% of the time. “Am humbled [and] deeply honored to be on President Trump’s SCOTUS list, released today,” he tweeted after the president announced his list–before seguing into a promotional pitch for his new book about the Supreme Court.

Cruz is a Harvard-educated lawyer and former clerk to Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.

5. Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel

The 46-year-old Engel is a highly active member of the Federalist Society–the conservative legal organization that was tapped to vet and select most of Trump’s judicial nominees thus far. He previously served in the Office of Legal Counsel for the second Bush administration and later went on to work for several years in private practice as a partner with the law firm of Dechert LLP.

After assuming his current office in November 2017, Engel was essentially one of the president’s go-to legal minds. In his role, he advised Trump on numerous legal issues–and provided similar guidance to other executive branch agencies. This is an area where critics are likely to seize upon Engel’s resume in a none-too-flattering light. Trump has been accused of serial lawlessness while in office, and Engel would almost certainly be viewed as one of just a few high-profile collaborators who put a legalistic gloss on the president’s alleged crimes.

Engel got his JD from Yale Law.

6. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)

The 40-year-old Hawley is another reliable ally of Trump’s in the U.S. Senate who is also occasionally written of as being somewhat “populist” in his politics. Hawley votes with the president nearly 85-percent of the time. Presumed ethics violations while briefly serving as the Show-Me State’s attorney general may have followed Hawley to would-be hearings, but Hawley himself appreciated yet declined the honor after his name was included on Trump’s list.

“I appreciate the President’s confidence in listing me as a potential Supreme Court nominee,” the Missouri senator tweeted. “But as I told the President, Missourians elected me to fight for them in the Senate, and I have no interest in the high court. I look forward to confirming constitutional conservatives.”

Hawley was also a Yale Law grad.

7. Florida Supreme Court Justice Carlos Muñiz

The 51-year-old Muñiz previously served in the Trump administration as general counsel for the Betsy DeVos-led Department of Education. Under his tenure, the agency was repeatedly upbraided by the same federal court for repeatedly violating the law and a resulting court order for erroneously forcing thousands of scammed college students to pay back loans they were not liable for.

In 2019, Muñiz was hand-picked by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis to solidify GOP dominance over the Florida Supreme Court. The judge has a long tenure in Florida politics–he previously served as a top legal aide to then-Governor Jeb Bush and later worked for Florida’s former attorney general Pam Bondi.

Muñiz, too, was a Yale Law grad.

8. Former U.S. solicitor general Noel Francisco

The 50-year-old former solicitor general is another movement conservative, establishment favorite and one-time Scalia clerk. Law&Crime previously wrote in-depth about Francisco’s highly successful tenure as the Trump administration’s Supreme Court lawyer:

Francisco has also been instrumental and atypically adept–arguably even dogged–at seeking stays from the Supreme Court that neutralize lower court injunctions. The effect has been continuance of Trump administration policies signed off on by the nation’s conservative justices without an actual assessment of the legal merits. Such stays hold for at least as long as those often lengthy legal controversies make their way back to the high court–oftentimes months or even years later–a form of juridical brinkmanship and a legalistic shell game likely to be emulated by future administrations pushing similarly controversial agendas and initiatives.

Francisco is a University of Chicago law grad.

9. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Ho

Circuit Judge James Ho, 47, received criticism from legal peers due to a high-profile opinion that denied a transgender employment law claim–and due to his nontraditional decision to pen a concurrence in which he agreed with himself to rail against modern views of gender theory and the development of legal protections for transgender individuals. Ho also recently caused a stir by blaming the uptick in mass shootings on criticism and punishment of law enforcement.

Another dedicated Federalist Society member, Ho was appointed by Trump in late 2017 and has been accused of writing op-eds in furtherance of the conservative movement rather than penning legal opinions. Such a choice might introduce some drama at the high court–critics assumed Ho was subtly rebuked for his partisanship by Chief Justice John Roberts in late 2019.

Ho is also a University of Chicago law grad.

10. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Gregory Katsas

The 56-year-old Katsas has been a member of the Federalist Society since 1989. He twice clerked for arch-conservative judge and eventual Justice Clarence Thomas before a long stint at the U.S. Department if Justice during the entirety of the younger Bush administration. He also formerly worked as a partner at elite international law firm Jones Day where he argued before the Supreme Court on three occasions.

Katsas went on to serve in the Trump administration as both an assistant and counsel to Trump–prompting his recusal from several high-profile cases as a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit. Notably, Katsas has declined to hear any cases involving the Russiagate investigation by then-special counsel Robert Mueller. A conservative and Trump stalwart to be sure, Katsas recently ruled in favor of the president’s recently-instituted federal death penalty rules. He is currently the lead judge overseeing a challenge to the administration’s longstanding efforts to diminish the impact of undocumented immigrants on the U.S. Census-based reapportionment (redistricting) process.

Katsas graduated from Harvard Law School.

11. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Barbara Lagoa

The 52-year-old Lagoa was the first Hispanic woman to sit on the Florida Supreme Court when she was appointed by Governor DeSantis in early 2019. Prior to that, she served for 13 years on Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal. Her time on the Florida Supreme Court was short-lived, however; she quickly resigned after being nominated by Trump–and easily-approved by the Senate–for her current position on the 11th Circuit.

Controversially, Lagoa is viewed as a proponent of Florida’s widely-criticized efforts to institute a poll tax for formerly incarcerated individuals.

Per the Tampa Bay Times:

Lagoa asked many questions that indicated she agreed with DeSantis’ position on Amendment 4, passed by Floridians in 2018 that wiped away the state’s Jim Crow-era ban on voting by people convicted of felonies.

At one point, Lagoa questioned whether the court, if it finds parts of Amendment 4 unconstitutional, shouldn’t simply void the entire amendment.

Lagoa earned her JD at Columbia University.

12. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bridget Bade

The 54-year-old Bade began her judicial career as a lower-tier U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in 2012. She was subsequently nominated for her current position in 2018–but her initial nomination was returned to the president due to Senate inaction on the nod. Later that same month, Trump announced his intent to renominate Bade and she was quickly ushered through the confirmation process.

Bade also has civil and criminal experience as a lawyer, previously serving in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division where she worked with the Environmental Torts Section. After several years in private practice, she served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona. Decidedly one of the least ideological names on Trump’s list, Bade is also reportedly not a member of the Federalist Society.

Bade is an Arizona State law grad.

13. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan

The 48-year-old Duncan is a member of the Federalist Society and a reliable conservative legal mind. Prior to becoming a judge, he served as president of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit and pluralistic religious liberty-focused public interest law firm. After Duncan’s tenure, the Becket Fund successfully litigated several high-profile Supreme Court cases in favor of religious liberty rights for both Christians and Muslims.

As an illustrative insight into Duncan’s own judicial proclivities, however, the appellate judge recently ruled in favor of Texas’s controversial ban on abortions during the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In his ruling, he wrote: “Individual rights secured by the Constitution do not disappear during a public health crisis, but…Rights could be reasonably restricted during those times.”

Duncan has a law degree from Louisiana State and a Master of Laws degree from Columbia University.

14. U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau

The 56-year-old Landau is one of the wealthiest names to appear on Trump’s shortlist. In a financial disclosure form, he reported earning at least $14 million via his prior work for elite law firms Kirkland & Ellis and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

Landau, who has never been a judge before, doesn’t have much of a political record aside from Trump’s imprimatur as his current boss and the president’s publicized faith in the diplomat’s legal mind. His decades worth of appellate lawyer experience for such mega firms are unlikely to be particularly elucidating on his potential judicial philosophy. But in strict terms of conservative bona fides, Landau previously clerked for both Justices Thomas and Scalia.

Landau is another Harvard Law grad.

15. U.S. District Judge Martha Pacold

The 41-year-old Pacold may be one of Trump’s least controversial judicial nominees yet; she sailed through the Senate on an 87-3 vote during the summer of 2019. Whether that bipartisan acceptance of her judicial credentials would or would not dissipate in the event of a Supreme Court nomination is, of course, an open question. Perhaps and perhaps not complicating Pacold’s potential prospects for promotion is her prior affiliation with the Federalist Society. According to a questionnaire she submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Pacold joined the group around the year 2000 but was no longer a member as of 2008.

Pacold also previously served in various roles for the U.S. Department of Treasury under Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and as counsel to then-attorney general Alberto Gonzalez.

Pacold is a University of Chicago law grad.

16. Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Peter Phipps

The 47-year-old Phipps is a recent judge. He previously spent a few years in private practice but the majority of his legal career–some 14 years–was spent as an attorney litigating with the Federal Programs Branch of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. Phipps owes the entirety of his judicial career to Trump, who nominated him for his prior job as a district court judge and for his current position as an appellate judge.

Legal commentators have been surprised by Phipps’ star ascendant due to his lack of conservative movement credentials–or consistent ideology in general. Per legal blogger Matthew Stiegler:

His paper trail is not extensive and far from incendiary (like “An Approach to Preparing Fact Witnesses for Deposition Testimony”). He has never been a Federalist Society member. The circuit judge he clerked for was nominated by President Clinton and is viewed as a liberal. He knocked on doors in 2000 and 2001 for two local political candidates who appear to be Republicans. He did several landlord-tenant cases pro bono, presumably on the tenants’ side.

Phipps earned his JD at Stanford University.

17. U.S. District Judge Sarah Pitlyk

The 43-year-old Pitlyk is definitely of the more controversial names on this list. A Federalist Society member since 2006, she was one of the Trump judicial nominees to be rated “Not Qualified” by the American Bar Association (ABA) in 2019 because she did not “have the requisite trial or litigation experience or its equivalent.” Republican Senators rushed to her defense, however, arguing the non-partisan organization was motivated by ideological bias.

A former clerk for then-judge and current Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Pitlyk once argued that frozen embryos from in vitro fertilization are legally human beings and also penned a brief that claimed surrogate parents have “grave effects on society.”

Pitlyk is a Yale Law grad.

18. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Allison Jones Rushing

The 38-year-old Rushing was previously an intern with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative legal nonprofit which is decidedly anti-LGBTQ and is also designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Adding to her conservative movement pedigree, Rushing previously clerked for then-judge and current Justice Neil Gorsuch and has been a member of the Federalist Society since 2012.

Her nomination was originally returned to the president because the Senate did not act on it in a timely manner–despite the bruising confirmation hearings in which her arguments against same-sex marriage were put on full display. Trump quickly renominated her and she eventually was confirmed by the Senate on a party line vote.

Rushing is a Duke University law grad.

19. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Lawrence VanDyke

The 47-year-old VanDyke is another ABA-determined “Not Qualified” member of the federal bench. In one of the organization’s most full-throated denunciations yet, the longtime Federalist Society member was described in unflattering terms and effectively characterized as a person who might discriminate against LGBTQ people from the bench.

“Mr. VanDyke’s accomplishments are offset by the assessments of interviewees that Mr. VanDyke is arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules,” William C. Hubbard, chair of the ABA’s standing committee on the federal judiciary, wrote. “There was a theme that the nominee lacks humility, has an ‘entitlement’ temperament, does not have an open mind, and does not always have a commitment to being candid and truthful.”

The letter went on to raise doubts as to whether or not he would be “fair to persons who are gay, lesbian or otherwise part of the LGBTQ community,” adding that “VanDyke would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community.”

Conservatives called this evaluation by the ABA a “political drive-by shooting.VanDyke cried during his confirmation hearings when grilled about his record, but he was eventually confirmed.

VanDyke is a Harvard Law grad.

20. Deputy White House counsel Kate Todd

The 45-year-old Todd is a resolute member of the conservative movement who previously worked for George W. Bush and joined the White House counsel’s office in 2018 as part of a group intent on frustrating congressional oversight of the Trump administration. Todd previously worked as both the senior vice president and as chief counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

At a Federalist Society event in 2017, she said the Obama administration’s regulatory efforts were so “deliciously terrible” that they were “dream targets” for conservative plaintiffs hoping to win against the administrative state. Another sign of her loyalty to the conservative movement cause: Todd previously clerked for Justice Thomas before entering private practice.

Todd is yet another candidate with a JD from Harvard Law School.

[image via Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images]

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime: