Reports are circulating today that Donald Trump has narrowed his list of potential SCOTUS picks to three; Bill Pryor, 10 Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch, and Thomas Hardiman. Trump is expected to make his final announcement next week and hopes to have the nominee confirmed in time to hear arguments for the coming term, starting in April.
Pryor has been widely considered the heavy favorite, although he has a less than stellar record when it comes to confirmation hearings. He was originally appointed during a recess of the Senate to prevent a filibuster and was eventually confirmed on a 53-45 vote. Democrats have long opposed him for his stance on Roe v. Wade as “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law”, but he has a strong record that has been praised by conservatives. Pryor’s notable decisions include a ruling against the Obamacare contraceptive mandate and decision affirming Georgia’s voter ID laws.
Erick wrote a few days ago that Neil Gorsuch was the new favorite to fill Scalia’s seat, and it still appears likely that he could be the nominee. Gorsuch has a solid conservative record and, at 49 years old, is the youngest of the three. Conservatives who follow him closely have noted his Scalia-esque writing style and sharp wit. Gorsuch is considered a brilliant legal mind. As well as a J.D. from Harvard, has earned a Doctorate of Legal Philosophy from Oxford. Given his writing flair and impressive intellect, he seems to be the natural heir to Scalia’s seat.
Thomas Hardiman looks to be the dark-horse candidate, although the fact that he’s among the final three candidates suggests he is gaining steam. Hardiman (Georgetown) and Pryor’s (Tulane) educational backgrounds both fit Trump’s anti-establishment narrative, as they would break the current Columbia/Yale/Harvard SCOTUS monopoly. Those three law schools have accounted for 35 Supreme Court Justices, including all 8 currently on the bench. Hardiman has a good record and appears to be exceptionally strong on the Second Amendment. Some of his notable opinions include his affirmation of the Second Amendment rights of people convicted of non-violent crimes and a dissenting opinion on a ruling that upheld New Jersey’s law requiring “justifiable need” for a weapons permit. In that dissent Hardiman makes clear his opinion that the Second Amendment right to bear arms extends beyond one’s home.
I admit I was very skeptical of Trump’s willingness to pick a truly conservative SCOTUS nominee, but these three candidates look very promising. There’s no news yet as to whether Chuck Schumer considers any of them “mainstream”, although Senate records show he voted for Hardiman in 2007, and Gorsuch was confirmed with a simple voice vote in 2006. Given Schumer’s constant need for attention, it seems likely he would even block Merrick Garland at this point, so expect some fireworks and posturing no matter who earns the final nod.