On Friday, September 18, Ruth Bader Ginsberg—Supreme Court justice, feminist, mother, and beloved grandmother, died at 87. Not only did she leave behind an insurmountable legacy, but she also left a vacant, vital Supreme Court seat. And it appears the Republicans, controversially, will try to fill it before the presidential election on November 3.
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, said in a statement Friday evening just hours after Ginsberg’s passing. Senate Majority Whip John Thune echoed this sentiment, adding in his statement, “I believe Americans sent a Republican president and a Republican Senate to Washington to ensure we have an impartial judiciary that upholds the Constitution and the rule of law. We will fulfill our obligation to them. As Leader McConnell has said, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate.”
The reason this move is being called hypocritical: in February 2016, McConnel blocked President Barack Obama’s choice for Supreme Court, saying it was too close to election day (it was more than 200 days out). As of September 19, we’re just 45 days from the election.
There are, however, a few dissenters in the Republican ranks. According to The New York Times, both Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine said there isn’t enough time to confirm a new justice before the election. In an apparent response to this, McConnel sent a letter to Republicans noting, “For those of you who are unsure how to answer, or for those inclined to oppose giving a nominee a vote, I urge you all to keep your powder dry.” He added Republicans should not “lock yourselves into a position you may later regret.”
There are also already potential candidates in place: On September 9, Trump announced the addition of 20 names to his consideration list, noting he’d “absolutely” nominate a new justice should a vacancy arise before the election. Publications, including The New York Times, are already making their lists of who they consider to be frontrunners, including Amy Barrett and Amul Thapar. For a complete picture, here’s what you need to know about Trump’s list of top choices to join the Supreme Court before election day.
Bridget Bade: Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In 2018, Trump added Bade’s name to his potential list of future Supreme Court nominees. In 2019, when up for nomination in the ninth circuit, The Alliance for Justice noted that Bade’s record should be “carefully examined” rather than the organization’s harsher condemnation of other nominees. According to Bloomberg Law, Bade received a “Well Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, the highest possible rating.
Daniel Cameron: Attorney General of Kentucky
Cameron is Kentucky’s first Black Attorney General. According to the Courier-Journal, the 34-year-old would be an “unlikely choice for the high court, given his age and lack of experience. He was admitted to practice law nine years ago.” Of his mention on the list, Cameron said, “it is an honor to be mentioned by President Trump.” He added, “I remain focused on serving the people of Kentucky and delivering on my promise to tackle child abuse, human trafficking, the drug epidemic, and other public safety challenges throughout the commonwealth.” Cameron is currently under the spotlight as his office will decide whether or not to charge the three Louisville Metro Police officers involved fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.
Amy Coney Barrett: Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Barrett, a former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, was also nominated by Trump for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. According to CNN, in 2013, Barrett said she believes it is “very unlikely at this point” that the Supreme Court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade. In her confirmation hearing, Barrett said she did not believe it was “lawful for a judge to impose personal opinions, from whatever source they derive, upon the law,” SCOTUS Blog reported. She additionally pledged that her personal views on abortion “or any other question will have no bearing on the discharge of my duties as a judge.” Barrett was also a member of the Federalist Society, which advocates for an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.
Paul Clement: Former Solicitor General
Clement served as solicitor general during George W. Bush’s presidency. According to CNN, he is “one of the most experienced appellate advocates in the country,” and argued more than 100 cases before the court. New York magazine once wrote of him, “The unusual thing about Clement is that, while he’s undoubtedly a conservative and a Republican, he has managed to avoid this fate. His persona is rarely conflated with the case he’s arguing.” Lisa Blatt, a veteran Supreme Court advocate and the head of Arnold & Porter’s appellate practice, told the magazine, “He just doesn’t do things that upset people. There’s no edge to him.”
Tom Cotton: U.S. Senator from Arkansas
In response to the news that he was shortlisted for the Supreme Court, Cotton tweeted, “I’m honored that President Trump asked me to consider serving on the Supreme Court and I’m grateful for his confidence. I will always heed the call of service to our nation.” He added, “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 also once described slavery as a “necessary evil” and opposes the teaching of the 1619 Project.
Ted Cruz: U.S. Senator from Texas
On Friday, Cruz told Fox News, “I believe that the president should next week nominate a successor to the court, and I think it is critical that the Senate takes up and confirms that successor before Election day.” Despite being on the shortlist, Cruz has said he has no interest in joining the court. “It is deeply honoring,” Cruz told Fox. “It’s humbling to be included in the list … but it’s not the desire of my heart. I want to be in the political fight.”
Kyle Duncan: Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
In January, Daniel Goldberg, legal director at the progressive judicial nonprofit the Alliance for Justice, called Duncan an “ultra-conservative.” Goldberg explained how Duncan argued for the recent Medical Services v Russo case, which would essentially ban abortion clinics in Louisiana until he was given a lifetime appointment to the fifth circuit by Trump. A similar law was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2016. “For the overwhelming number of cases,” Goldberg said, “the constitutional rights of the people in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi will be made by Kyle Duncan and the other ultra-conservatives on the fifth circuit.”
Steven Engel: Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel
In 2017, Sen. John McCain was the sole Republican vote against confirming Steven Engel to lead the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. In his vote, McCain cited Engel’s role in the so-called “Torture Memos” under the George W. Bush administration. “Mr. Engel reviewed and commented on this memo, which attempted to justify interrogation techniques that violate the Geneva Conventions and stain our national honor,” McCain told POLITICO. “I cannot in good conscience vote for any nominee who in any way has supported the use of enhanced interrogation.”
Noel Francisco: former Solicitor General of the United States
In July, Francisco stepped down as solicitor general. During his tenure, he helped defend several controversial issues that came to the court, Reuters reported. This included disputes over the President’s personal financial records and the travel ban and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Josh Hawley: U.S. Senator from Missouri
Hawley is another senator who has already expressed he has little interest in the job of a Supreme Court judge. “My principal role in this process, this latest process, was to state where I will begin with judicial nominees, which is asking where they are on Roe vs. Wade,” he said in mid-September. “Roe v. Wade is a window into a judge’s judicial philosophy.”
James Ho: Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Ho, like many others on this list, is also a member of The Federalist Society. According to NPR, Ho has said that today’s government “would be unrecognizable to our Founders.” He’s also condemned abortion, calling it a “moral tragedy.”
Gregory Katsas: Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Katsas is another member of The Federalist Society. In a 2016 podcast for the society, Katsas made dismissive comments about abortion rights, saying “the right to abortion, which isn’t in the Constitution, which has all these made-up protections [sic].” However, during his 2017 confirmation hearing, Katsas said, if confirmed, “I would have no difficulty fully and fairly applying [Roe v. Wade] and all other binding precedents.” The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights strongly opposed his nomination as a circuit judge.
Barbara Lagoa: Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
According to the Federal Justice Center, Lagoa’s appointment to the eleventh circuit was endorsed by William W. Large, the President of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, which advocates for conservative legal reforms. Her appointment was also praised by John Stemberger, the president of the Florida Family Policy Council, which the Justice Center describes as “an anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ group.” Lagoa is also a member of The Federalist Society. In his statement, Stemberger said, “she is smart, thoughtful, and has a conservative judicial philosophy that appreciates the limited role of the court. She is also deeply committed to her faith, her family, and her community.”
Christopher Landau: Ambassador to Mexico
Landau clerked for both Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Though there isn’t much more information out there about Landau, Vice reported in September that Landau found himself in hot water after allegedly bullying a female college student in Mexico on Twitter. “The ambassador overreacted. It would have been much more advisable for him to ignore the message or say ‘I don’t agree,'” Javier Oliva, a professor of political science at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told Vice. “He didn’t take into account an environment in Mexico where violence against women is justifiably a huge issue, and any criticism turns into a much bigger deal.”
Carlos Muñiz: Justice on the Supreme Court of Florida
According to Florida Politics, Muñiz served as the General Counsel to the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos. Muñiz recently made waves by shooting down Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest pick for the Florida Supreme Court. Muñiz, a DeSantis nominee, wrote the unanimous decision, saying his choice eas “constitutionally ineligible” and ordered DeSantis to appoint a new justice.
Peter Phipps: Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
In 2019, Trump announced his intent to nominate Phipps to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. At the time, Senator Bob Casey shared a statement noting he believed Phipps did not have enough experience. He stated Phipps’s “six months on that bench is sufficient experience or preparation.” Casey added, “[l]ike justices of the Supreme Court, circuit court judges are often asked to decide questions of law that can have an enormous impact on Americans’ lives, and I have significant concerns about Judge Phipps’ judicial and constitutional philosophy.” According to the Alliance for Justice, during his initial confirmation hearing for the district court, Phipps refused to answer whether he believed Brown v. Board of Education —the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional—was correctly decided.
Allison Jones Rushing: Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Rushing’s 2019 confirmation was condemned by civil rights and LGBTQ groups, The Washington Post reported. The group’s cited her internship with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal nonprofit, as their reason. The Washington Post explained, the group played a significant role in Supreme Court cases, including defending the Colorado baker who fought for the right not to bake a cake for a gay wedding. The paper also noted, Rushing defended the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
Amul Thapar: Former U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky
In 2016, Thapar’s father, Raj Thapar, told the Louisville Courier-Journal, “his son is so conservative that he ‘nearly wouldn’t speak to me after I voted for Barack Obama.'” In 2017, Trump nominated Thapar to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2018. McConnell told reporters he encouraged Trump to consider Thapar for a seat on the Supreme Court. “I think he’s absolutely brilliant, with the right temperament,” McConnell said. “But others have their favorites. And I have no idea who the president may choose.”
Kate Todd: Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the President
Todd served as a law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. She now acts as both counsel to the president, and according to The Federalist Society, she also teaches the law of federal courts at The George Washington University Law School, and previously taught constitutional law at Cornell University’s Washington program At an event for the Federalist Society, Todd reportedly spoke about the Obama administration and its regulatory agenda, noting that some of the regulations were so “deliciously terrible” that they were “dream targets.”
Lawrence VanDyke: Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
VanDyke served as Solicitor General of Montana and as Solicitor General of Nevada. His appointment to the ninth circuit was opposed by both Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen. Rosen spokeswoman Katherine Schneider in a statement: “Lawrence VanDyke isn’t qualified to serve in his current position holding Nevada’s seat on the Ninth Circuit, much less on the Supreme Court. When last nominated, he was a partisan and anti- LGBTQ nominee who faced bipartisan opposition in the Senate. “