President Donald Trump took the unusual step Friday of adding names to the roster of potential Supreme Court justices he distributed during his run for office, even though the court has no current vacancies and no justices have announced their intentions to retire.
The names supplement a list Trump released during last year’s presidential campaign of conservative jurists whom he would consider nominating to the high court should a vacancy arise. Trump nominated one of those judges, Neil Gorsuch, earlier this year to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
When Trump originally released his list last year, the court was short a justice. But the bench is now full, making Friday’s release peculiar.
The White House didn’t immediately say why it decided to add names to its list now, though top administration officials – including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House counsel Don McGahn – were addressing the Federalist Society in Washington on Friday.
The five names added to the list would appeal to the conservative legal group.
The highest-profile figure and a long-rumored Supreme Court nominee is Brett Kavanaugh, a judge who sits on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and worked in the 1990s on the Starr Report, which detailed allegations of President Bill Clinton’s sexual conduct with Monica Lewinsky.
Kavanaugh filed a dissent last month in a high-profile ruling that allowed an undocumented teenager in Texas to get an abortion. Kavanaugh wrote that the full court based its decision “on a constitutional principle as novel as it is wrong: a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in US government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand.”
Other additions to the list include US appeals court Judges Amy Barrett and Kevin Newsom, and state supreme court Judges Britt Grant of Georgia and Patrick Wyrick of Oklahoma.
Barrett, who was confirmed recently to the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, was questioned by California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein about her Catholic faith during Senate hearings. The line of questioning was troubling to conservatives.
Trump considers Gorsuch’s confirmation to the court one of the chief accomplishments of his presidency so far, one that appealed to his core base of conservative voters and demonstrated his ability to advance his agenda in Congress.
Court watchers have been eying Justice Anthony Kennedy as a possible retirement, though he’s given no indication that he’s planning on leaving. Kavanaugh worked as a law clerk for Kennedy early in his career.
The White House said Friday that Trump would nominate one of the 25 individuals from the list to fill a Supreme Court vacancy “should one arise.”
“The President remains deeply committed to identifying and selecting outstanding jurists in the mold of Justice Gorsuch,” the White House said in a statement. “These additions, like those on the original list released more than a year ago, were selected with input from respected conservative leaders.”
One of those leaders praised the options shortly after the list was released.
“These men and women have spent years in the trenches of state and federal government fighting for the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Carrie Severino, the chief counsel and policy director for the Judicial Crisis Network. “They represent a diverse range of backgrounds, including both state and federal judges, three who were former state solicitors general with firsthand experience protecting our constitutional balance of powers.”