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Donald Trump made an unprecedented move this week that could go a long way toward shoring up his support among the Republican Party establishment.
The presumptive Republican nominee on Wednesday released a list of judges he would consider for Supreme Court nominations in a theoretical presidency. It’s a step that no prior presidential candidate has taken.
But shortly after his list of 11 potential nominees went public, he received ringing praise from all sides of the party.
House Speaker Paul Ryan – the top-ranking Republican in Washington who made waves by initially declining to endorse Trump – said the list of names was a ”very good step in the right direction.”
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight over the Supreme Court nomination process, was equally impressed.
In a Wednesday statement, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said Trump’s list was composed of judges who “understand and respect the fundamental principle that the role of the courts is limited and subject to the Constitution and the rule of law.”
Grassley said Trump’s list goes to show the American people that they have “a voice in the direction of the Supreme Court for the next generation.”
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Trump said in a statement that the list of judges is “representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value.”
He has attempted to seize on an issue that could be the deciding factor for Republicans torn about whether to support him over likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He said in a speech Friday that as president, he could appoint as many as five justices. And with four justices currently on the bench at least approaching the age of 80, it’s not as far-fetched as it seems.
GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak told Business Insider that the release of potential Supreme Court nominees was one of the most important moves Trump could make ahead of the fall election.
“I think it sort of helps some of the conservative angst out there and it addressed one of the biggest problems with a Republican supporting Hillary, and that is the Supreme Court,” said Mackowiak, who founded the Washington-based political communications firm Potomac Strategy Group.
“He can do himself a lot of good if he keeps pulling moves like this out,” he continued. “So, the VP search is part of that, the future cabinet is part of that, but the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment. It’s really, really important.”
- AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
Mackowiak said he considers himself an undecided voter at the moment, although that does not mean he’s considering voting for Clinton. The list of potential nominees helped him to view Trump in a more favorable light, though he’s still not hopping aboard the Trump train.
But it was a major necessity, he said, because since Trump never served as a governor or senator, he has no record on judicial appointments.
“All we know about judges and his judicial philosophy is that he’s been involved in a lot of lawsuits and he likes his sister, who is fairly moderate,” he said, making note of Maryanne Trump Barry, a senior judge in the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.
He continued: “This now gives conservatives, if he gets elected, something to hold him accountable on. Where if he didn’t have it, you wouldn’t really be able to hold him accountable to the same extent.”
Trump’s list comes roughly two months after President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia’s sudden death sparked massive strife between the two major parties that has yet to be resolved.
Senate Republicans have refused to hold confirmation hearings, citing the desire to wait until after the election to appoint a new justice.
Clinton has not said whether she will pull Garland’s nomination in favor of making her own nomination if she wins the presidency.
- REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The list wasn’t the first time Trump dropped hints about potential nominees.
During a Republican primary debate in February, Trump floated Diane S. Sykes, a federal judge in the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and William H. Pryor, a federal judge in the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, as potential replacements for Scalia. Both were on his Wednesday list.
The real-estate mogul also told The Washington Post last month that he was “getting names” from Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the first sitting senator to endorse him, as well as the Heritage Foundation.
Many of the names on Heritage’s “wish list” were on that of Trump – including Pryor; Sykes; Associate Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court Thomas Rex Lee; Associate Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court; and federal Judges Steven Colloton and Raymond Gruender of the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.
- REUTERS/Molly Riley
Many of Trump’s potential picks would likely spark fierce Democratic opposition.
Senate Democrats opposed Pryor’s circuit-court nomination, citing his description of Roe v. Wade as “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” Gruender has also ruled in favor of laws curtailing access to abortion, writing in a 2012 opinion that abortion increases “depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, child neuroticism, and low self-esteem.”
But Republican strategists are almost sure Trump himself didn’t have much input on the list of judges.
“I don’t think Trump gave a thumbs up or a thumbs down to any of these names,” Mackowiak said. “He was probably presented the entire list, might have asked a couple questions here and there. For the most part, he wanted a list people would respond positively to.”
Evan Siegfried, a GOP strategist and commentator, said it was obvious that Trump’s team didn’t do much vetting of the candidates.
If they had, they “would’ve known that Don Willett of Texas has been very anti-Trump and has said some stuff that is just embarrassing to him now,” Siegfried said, later adding that “they never checked to see if there were any problems or anything that could be embarrassing to the campaign.”
- AP Photo/Eric Gay
Siegfried himself is openly averse to Trump’s candidacy. But he too saw the value in Trump releasing the list of ideal nominees.
“The strategy behind releasing this list was basically calm the establishment. Say, ‘No, no, no, I know there were concerns about me being a conservative and what judges I’d appoint, but here’s a list,'” he said. “And that theoretically should help.”
He called it one of many small moves that will help his standing within the conservative base.
“By itself, it won’t really do much,” he said. “But among more moves like this, it will ultimately be something that will be positive for him.”