Donald Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees is a splashy reminder that the 2016 presidential election could determine the direction of the high court for years to come.
The presumptive Republican nominee on Wednesday named 11 federal and state court judges as potential replacements for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, any of whom would restore conservative control of the court lost with his death.
US President Barack Obama has nominated Judge Merrick Garland to take Scalia’s place, but Republicans who control the Senate say they will not fill the seat before the election. That leaves the Supreme Court with eight justices, divided 4 to 4 by ideology.
Scalia’s death was a shock, but the next few years are almost certain to produce more vacancies. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, Justice Anthony Kennedy turns 80 in July and Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78 before the end of the summer.
A Trump nominee in any of those seats would cement conservative domination of the court for years, if not decades. By contrast, a victory by the Democrats in November probably would lead to the most liberal Supreme Court in a half-century.
Trump had said he would appoint justices in the mould of the conservative Scalia, whom Trump called “a remarkable person and a brilliant Supreme Court justice”.
The eight men and three women, all white, on Trump’s list are all judges, six who sit on federal appeals court judges and five state appellate judges.
The announcement came as Trump is working to bring together a fractured Republican Party and earn the trust of still-sceptical establishment Republicans who question his electability in the general election, as well as conservatives in his party still wary of his commitment to their cause.
In a statement, Trump said the list “is representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value” and said that, as president, he would use it “as a guide to nominate our next United States Supreme Court justices”.
They include Judge William Pryor of the Atlanta-based federal appeals court, who has called the landmark Roe V Wade decision legalising abortion nationwide the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law”.
Joan Larsen, who serves on the Michigan Supreme Court, is a former law clerk to Scalia who delivered one of the tributes to the late justice at his memorial service. She served in the Justice Department office that produced the legal justifications for the enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that critics have called torture.
“I’m focused on doing my job for the people of Michigan,” she said Wednesday. “I love being a judge. I love this court. I love the work of this court. And that’s where my focus lies. But I’m interested in doing it.”
Also on the list is Judge Steven Colloton, a member of the federal appeals court in St Louis Colloton was part of a unanimous three-judge panel that ruled for faith-affiliated groups that challenged Obama administration rules giving women covered by the groups’ health plans access to cost-free contraceptives.
Colloton’s panel was the only one of nine appeals courts that sided with the non-profit groups, and the Supreme Court this week failed to resolve the conflict among the lower courts. Instead, the justices threw out all the appellate rulings and ordered the lower courts to re-examine the issue in a search for a compromise outcome.
Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate were quick to react in ways that pointed to the importance of the presidential election.
“Donald Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees are a woman’s worst nightmare. Their records reveal a lineup of individuals who would likely overturn Roe v Wade if given the chance, gutting what’s left of abortion access in this country and heaping punishment on women,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
On the other side of the issue, Susan B Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said Trump’s list was especially strong and stood in contrast to judges Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton would choose.
“There is no question Clinton would only nominate judges who stand in lock-step with the abortion lobby and would strike down even the most modest abortion limits,” Dannenfelser said.
Trump’s list is also notable for the names that don’t appear. It omits two of the biggest stars in the conservative legal world, Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the federal appeals court in Washington, and former Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement.
Indeed, none of those mentioned works in Washington, although several have served as Supreme Court law clerks or worked in the Justice Department.
Among the judicial candidates, Sykes, a judge on the federal appeals court in Chicago, is the oldest at 58, while Stras, a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court, is the youngest at 41.
No one has gone directly from a state court to the Supreme Court since Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981.