On Wednesday, Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president in 2016, offered the names of 11 possible replacements to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat left vacant when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February.
The reasons Trump would do this are obvious enough. The billionaire real estate developer and reality TV star desperately needs to bolster his standing among solid conservatives in the Republican Party. It’s a great way to win favor among conservatives wary of Trump’s commitment to oppose (a.) abortion, (b.) a federal government role in protecting the environment and (c.) strong worker and consumer rights.
The 11 judges — one of whom is Bill Pryor, former Alabama attorney general and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit — are a dream team for conservatives looking to fill Scalia’s vacant seat with the late jurist’s ideological doppleganger. Many of the judges on Trump’s list would fit the bill, or at least come close to it. The judicial track record of most, if not all, would have a hard time getting through the Senate’s confirmation process, but that is something that won’t be faced until there is a President Trump.
What’s good for Trump, though, isn’t necessarily good for his fellow Republicans, especially those in the Senate. The announcement of the Trump Eleven raises an uncomfortable issue.
Scalia died 11 months before the end of President Barack Obama’s second term. The president nominated a replacement — federal Judge Merrick B. Garland — not long after. During a typical Senate confirmation process, the Senate would consider Garland over the spring and summer. If his nomination was approved by a majority of senators, Garland could be seated on the Supreme Court well before the presidential election on Nov. 8.
This is not a typical Senate confirmation process, however. Within hours of Scalia’s death, the Senate’s Republican majority declared that no Obama nominee would be considered in the president’s final year in the White House. So far, they’ve stuck to that commitment. Garland can’t get a hearing. Garland can’t receive a vote on his nomination. Senate Republicans have gone on strike.
That likely plays well with hardcore conservative Republicans who fear any judge Obama would pick to have a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.
It likely doesn’t play as well with the rest of the nation who see this episode example of a do-nothing Congress.
Thanks to Trump’s list, we now have a reminder that there is already one name placed before senators who should perform their constitutional duty and either confirm or reject his nomination. Don’t be surprised this fall if Trump’s opponents make a campaign issue out of Garland’s snub and a Republican Senate on strike.