Jun 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Behind Trump's tweet about his forthcoming SCOTUS list

Immigration activists hold a banner that says "here to stay" in front of the Supreme Court.

DACA supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Top aides and advisers to President Trump have been urging him to put together a new list of Supreme Court Justices ahead of the November election in an effort to pump up his base and remind them why a Republican needs to remain in the White House, people familiar with the talks tell Axios.

Behind the scenes: Discussions among Trump administration officials, Senate Judiciary staff and outside groups ramped up after Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's first SCOTUS nominee, delivered the majority decision prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

  • The impetus to revise the list was compounded by the Supreme Court's Thursday ruling that the Trump administration violated federal law in the way it tried to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
  • Shortly after, Trump tweeted that he "will be releasing a new list of Conservative Supreme Court Justice nominees, which may include some, or many of those already on the list, by September 1, 2020."
  • Many aides were taken aback by the president's decision to tweet about the list on Thursday, given that they'd not given a heads up to key outside people typically involved in these talks.
  • His tweeting "probably caught number of people a little bit by surprise," one Trump adviser said.

What they're saying: "The idea for a new list has been floating around for a while, but the DACA ruling might’ve fueled the desire for more originalist justices," an administration official told Axios.

  • The official said the tweet was likely a reflexive reaction from Trump, who wanted to show voters that he's still committed to putting conservative justices on the bench.
  • "There’s a danger that people who voted for you get demoralized," with rulings like the recent ones, a White House official said. In 2016, the official said, Trump's pitch included playing to conservative bona fides. This year, he wants to show he's still committed to that cause.

Who might be on it: Discussions are still the in early stage, people familiar with the process say.

  • The Federalist Society's Leonard Leo, who helped Trump compile his list at the start of his presidency, said he was "surprised" by the president's Thursday tweet, but added that a new list makes sense.
  • “The President seems open to considering names from the current list, which includes people like Amy Coney Barrett, Mike Lee, and Amul Thapar, but his decision to expand the list is a great idea because he’s put so many other great people on the court of appeals bench. He can leverage all that talent, and strike some new ground," Leo said.
  • One source familiar with discussions say the list may be adjusted to remove some older candidates and replace them with potential nominees who are younger, women or people of color.

Why it matters: The presidential election may elevate the issue for voters.

  • "The Supreme Court will once again be an election year issue as it was four years ago," former Solicitor General Ken Starr said on Fox News Friday.
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