Donald Trump has narrowed his short list for his first Supreme Court pick down to roughly a half-dozen finalists but the president-elect and his top advisers are already thinking about a second selection, as they seek to quickly remodel the high court with a reliably conservative bent.
Trump’s team wants to make filling the seat held by the late Justice Antonin Scalia one of the earliest acts of his presidency, according to multiple transition officials, in hopes of scoring an energizing and unifying victory for the conservative movement.
And as Trump weighs perhaps the most enduring personnel decision he’ll make as president-elect — filing one of only nine lifetime seats on the high court — he has sought input from an array of friends, former rivals, and legal and TV personalities.
“He clearly understands he may have a chance to define the court for a generation or more and he is taking it very seriously,” said former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump confidante.
While Scalia’s seat is the only current opening, Trump’s advisers are plotting how to fill that vacancy in tandem with the next one — a slot if vacated by a liberal justice like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, or swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, 80, could far more dramatically move the court’s political center of gravity to the right.
The thinking inside the transition, according to multiple people involved in the internal deliberations, is that Scalia’s replacement offers Trump and the conservative movement the best chance for an unabashedly rock-ribbed replacement because it would not fundamentally shift the court’s balance of power.
“You’re basically dealing with a situation where no matter what conservative you put on the court you’re establishing the same parity that existed,” said a transition official involved in the selection process. “That is first and foremost in everybody’s minds.”
But in the current search process, Trump’s team is also hoping to identify a conservative candidate — possibly a woman — who could be more politically palatable, or at least harder for Senate Democrats to oppose, if Kennedy or Ginsburg leave the court.
“To the extent there are ways of slicing and dicing the list, you want to be sensitive to who would be best as your first, forward-looking nominee for the Scalia seat,” said the transition official. “And then who are your better bets for seats that are going to be potentially more contentious.”
Two of the most-discussed names are Diane Sykes of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit federal appeals court and William Pryor of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit, in part because Trump himself name-dropped them at a primary debate last February. Both are on the public list of 21 judges that Trump pledged during the campaign that he will select from. Both also have state-level experience: Sykes on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Pryor as Alabama attorney general.
Sykes, notably, is the ex-wife of recently retired conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, an outspoken Trump critic.
Trump, besides promising to appoint justices in the mold of Scalia, is looking for some distinctly Trumpian qualities. He has repeatedly told his advisers, for instance, “I want someone who is not weak.”
Ruth said she would resign if Trump was elected, But like all the celebrities in hollywood I bet she doesnt, they will carry her out in a box, and NZ is such nice place too, maybe they denied her refugee status.