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How are Supreme Court justices chosen?

Story highlights

Trump has said for several months he would release a list of potential Supreme Court nominees

The announcement is the latest example of Trump's unorthodox campaign

(CNN) —  

Donald Trump on Wednesday unveiled a list of 11 judges he would consider nominating to fill the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, an unusual move for a presidential candidate that underscores his efforts to appeal to conservatives.

The list includes: Steven Colloton of Iowa, Allison Eid of Colorado, Raymond Gruender of Missouri, Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, Joan Larsen of Michigan, Thomas Lee of Utah, William Pryor of Alabama, David Stras of Minnesota, Diane Sykes of Wisconsin and Don Willett of Texas.

In a statement, Trump said he planned to use the list “as a guide to nominate our next United States Supreme Court Justices” and said the names are “representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value.”

The announcement is the latest example of Trump’s unorthodox campaign. Presidential candidates rarely mention specific people they would nominate and instead often talk about the profile of potential nominees. But Trump was questioned during the Republican primary campaign about his allegiance to conservative causes and releasing the list could quell those concerns.

Trump told Republican House leadership during a meeting on Capitol Hill last week that he would come out with a list, assisted by conservative groups The Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, of judicial nominations he would make if he had the opportunity to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

At the time, Trump also said the members present at the meeting should submit names to him and he would put them on the list.

Some prominent Republicans who vigorously opposed Trump’s campaign during the primary have begun rallying around the real estate magnate, arguing that Trump would at least nominate more conservative justices than Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Five of the 11 names were floated in March by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which Trump said was assisting him in compiling a list of potential nominees.

Steve Vladeck, a CNN contributor and law professor at American University Washington College of Law, described the list as “red meat to conservatives. These are 11 well-regarded conservative judges with consistent credentials; folks who I think could reasonably be expected to try and follow in Justice Scalia’s footsteps.”

They are also relatively young, he said. “So this list is meant to tantalize and mobilize conservatives.”

The list is notable, Vladeck said, in part because there are no surprises. “I would not have been surprised to see this exact list from almost any of the other Republican candidates,” he said. “These people tend to be more into strict interpretation of the Constitution who are more skeptical of unenumerated rights like privacy and who are more likely to side with conservative social movements, certainly than someone like Merrick Garland,” a reference to the nominee put forth by President Barack Obama to replace Scalia.

Conservatives signal support

The list was warmly received by Carrie Severino, the chief counsel and policy director of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network.

“The names on this list would need to be vetted, obviously, but they all seem to share in common a record of putting the law and the Constitution ahead of their political preferences,” Severino said. “The court needs more justices who will base their decisions on the law, not politics, even under pressure, especially since the next president is likely to determine the direction of the court for a generation.”

John Malcolm, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage foundation who compiled and published the foundation’s list of eight potential Supreme Court nominees in March, called Trump’s selections “excellent.”

Malcolm said the list should be reassuring to those conservatives who have had doubts about Trump’s judicial appointments.

“This is a pretty fine list that I would think would satisfy for most conservatives,” Malcolm said. “If these are the kinds of people whom he is going to consider, that should satisfy any conservative.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, reacted positively to the list, saying it was a “smart move” for the Republican presidential candidate to put out the names.

“It’s reassuring for conservatives to know what he’ll be looking for were he elected president,” Cornyn said as he stepped off the Senate floor and reviewed a CNN copy of Trump’s press release with the 11 possible nominees listed.

“Obviously, he’s never been in a position to make appointments like a governor and others who have been in an executive position. He’s been a businessman, and so I think this does provide some reassurance and conservatives will find it encouraging,” Cornyn added.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, meanwhile, called Trump’s list “impressive” in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said shortly after the list was released that the names wouldn’t be described by any Democrats as “consensus” candidates. He noted that was the description Republicans used for Garland. Senate Republicans have vowed to not hold a vote on Garland, citing the upcoming presidential election and the opportunity for the next president to make the selection.

“I would be surprised if there are any Democrats who would describe any of those 11 individuals as a consensus nominee,” Earnest said.

When Trump mentioned the names of Pryor and Sykes back in February, liberals were quick to pounce.

Ian Millhiser, writing for the liberal Center for American Progress, highlighted comments Pryor has made against Roe v. Wade and called him a “fairly orthodox conservative.”

Millhiser pointed to the fact that Sykes backed a voter ID law and she sat on a three-judge panel issuing a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the contraception mandate against for-profit companies in 2013

Some surprising choices

Six of the 11 picks are federal judges on U.S. courts of appeal, all of whom were nominated to their current positions by former President George W. Bush. The five other candidates sit on the benches of state supreme courts.

The list contains several notable judges who are conservative favorites and, surprisingly, some who have ties to people who have opposed Trump’s insurgent candidacy.

Sykes, who hails from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, once interviewed Justice Clarence Thomas in 2013 for a Federalist Society event. She’s the ex-wife of conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, who is a prominent member of the #NeverTrump movement.

Charlie Sykes told CNN that while his ex-wife “would be an outstanding choice” and “would make a great justice,” he doesn’t “trust” or “believe” the presumptive GOP nominee would make the right picks.

Willet, who serves on the Texas Supreme Court and was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry, featured prominently on a list put forward by the Federalist Society. But he once posted a “Donald Trump haiku” on Twitter the day Trump launched his presidential campaign, writing: “Who would the Donald/ Name to #SCOTUS? The mind reels. / *weeps – can’t finish tweet*.”

Lee, an associate justice on the Utah Supreme Court since 2010, is the brother of Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who enthusiastically endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the GOP primary and has yet to come around to supporting Trump. The Utah senator said as recently as last week that Trump “scares me to death.”

Two names that are frequently on the top of most conservatives’ Supreme Court lists are not present in Trump’s statement.

One is Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., who is a former clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy. The other is Paul Clement, who served as solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration and is a former clerk of Scalia. He is widely believed to be one of the top Supreme Court advocates practicing today and has argued more than 80 cases.

CNN’s Dana Bash, Ariane de Vogue and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.