With the advice and consent of the United States Senate, the president of the United States appoints the members of the Supreme Court of the United States, which is the highest court of the federal judiciary of the United States. Following his victory in the 2016 presidential election, Republican Donald Trump took office as president on January 20, 2017, and faced an immediate vacancy on the Supreme Court due to the February 2016 death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. During the 2016 campaign, Trump had released two lists of potential nominees to the Supreme Court. After taking office, he nominated Neil Gorsuch to succeed Scalia, and Gorsuch was confirmed in April 2017. In November 2017, five more names were added to the previous lists of potential nominees. In June 2018, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, creating a second vacancy on the Supreme Court. In early July 2018, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh as his replacement; Kavanaugh was confirmed on October 6, 2018.
Both the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh confirmations were enabled by a rule change made by the Senate Republican majority in April 2017, which applied the so-called nuclear option to Supreme Court nominees and allowed nominations to be advanced by a simple majority vote rather than the historical norm of a three-fifths supermajority vote.
President Trump began his term in January 2017 with a vacancy to be filled as a result of the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. As three of the Court's justices at the time—Ruth Bader Ginsburg (born 1933), Anthony Kennedy (born 1936) and Stephen Breyer (born 1938)—were aged 78 or older, speculation arose that additional vacancies could occur during Trump's four-year presidential term.Because Ginsburg and Breyer were part of the liberal wing of the Court and Kennedy was a swing vote who often aligned with them on social issues, many top political analysts saw Trump's term as a chance for Republicans to reshape the court significantly towards a more conservative vision of the law. On June 27, 2018, this became a real possibility when Justice Kennedy officially announced his retirement.
Following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh on October 6, 2018, the Supreme Court is currently composed of the following nine justices:
|Name||Age||Serving since||Appointed by||Law school (JD or LLB)|
| John Roberts |
|64||2005||George W. Bush||Harvard University|
|Clarence Thomas||71||1991||George H. W. Bush||Yale University|
|Ruth Bader Ginsburg||86||1993||Bill Clinton||Columbia University|
|Stephen Breyer||81||1994||Harvard University|
|Samuel Alito||69||2006||George W. Bush||Yale University|
|Sonia Sotomayor||65||2009||Barack Obama||Yale University|
|Elena Kagan||59||2010||Harvard University|
|Neil Gorsuch||52||2017||Donald Trump||Harvard University|
|Brett Kavanaugh||54||2018||Yale University|
On February 13, 2016, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead while vacationing at Cibolo Creek Ranch near Marfa, Texas.Scalia's death marked just the second time in sixty years that a sitting Supreme Court justice died. It led to a rare but not unprecedented Supreme Court nomination during the last year of a presidency.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, stated the new president should replace Scalia, while President Obama stated that he planned to nominate someone to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court.On February 23, the eleven Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter to McConnell stating their intention to withhold consent on any nominee made by President Obama, and that no hearings would occur until after January 20, 2017, when the new president took office. On March 16, 2016, Obama nominated then-chief judge Merrick Garland (of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit), to replace Scalia. After Garland's nomination, McConnell reiterated his position that the Senate would not consider any Supreme Court nomination until a new president took office. Garland's nomination expired on January 3, 2017, with the 114th Senate having taken no action on the nomination.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, while Garland remained before the Senate, Trump released two lists of potential nominees. On May 18, 2016, he released a short list of eleven judges for nomination to the Scalia vacancy.On September 23, 2016, he released a second list of ten possible nominees, this time including three minorities. Both lists were assembled by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. Days after Trump's inauguration, Politico named three individuals as the front-runners for Scalia's position: Neil Gorsuch, Thomas Hardiman and Bill Pryor, with Trump reportedly later narrowing his list down to Gorsuch and Hardiman. At the time of the nomination, Gorsuch, Hardiman, and Pryor were all federal appellate judges who had been appointed by President George W. Bush. President Trump and White House counsel Don McGahn interviewed those three individuals as well as Judge Amul Thapar of the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Kentucky in the weeks before the nomination. Trump announced Gorsuch as his nominee on January 31. Gorsuch was confirmed by the United States Senate in a 54–45 vote on April 7, 2017, with votes of 51 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Gorsuch was sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court on April 10 by Kennedy.
On June 27, 2018, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, effective July 31,giving Trump an opportunity to send a second Supreme Court nominee to the Senate for confirmation. Kavanaugh was officially nominated on July 9, selected from among a list of "25 highly qualified potential nominees" considered by the Trump Administration. Kavanaugh's nomination was officially sent to the Senate on July 10, 2018, and confirmation hearings began on September 4. The hearings took longer than initially expected over objections to the withholding of documents pertinent to Kavanaugh's time in the Bush administration as a lawyer, and due to the presence of protestors.
On September 16, 2018, Christine Blasey Ford alleged Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982, in what she described as an attempted rape.The accusation delayed the scheduled September 20 vote. After Ford's accusation, Kavanaugh indicated he would not withdraw. Ford's allegations were followed by an accusation of sexual assault by Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez, and a letter from Julie Swetnick accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in high school. Ford and Kavanaugh appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing on September 27, and were questioned by Arizona sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell and members of the Senate. The Judiciary Committee voted to approve Kavanaugh on September 28 after Jeff Flake, considered to be a swing vote, declared his intent to vote in favor of the nomination with the provision that there would be a new FBI investigation into the allegations by Ford. The investigation concluded on October 4. Two days later, Kavanaugh was confirmed by a 50–48 vote, and sworn in that same day.
Below is a list of individuals which President Trump has identified as his potential nominees for Supreme Court appointments. Most of them were revealed in two lists released by the Trump campaign in 2016. Others were added to a revised list released by the White House on November 17, 2017.
Following the nomination of Amul Thapar to the Sixth Circuit, it was noted that Trump might try to season some of the candidates on his list with federal appellate court experience prior to potential nomination to the Supreme Court.Indeed, Trump later elevated a number of state court judges from his list to fill vacant positions on the federal Courts of Appeals: Joan Larsen (Sixth Circuit), David Stras (Eighth Circuit), Allison Eid (Tenth Circuit), Don Willett (Fifth Circuit), and Britt Grant (Eleventh Circuit). Conversely, two previous Trump appointees to the Courts of Appeals—Amy Coney Barrett (Seventh Circuit) and Kevin Newsom (Eleventh Circuit)—were later added to the list of potential Supreme Court candidates.
Despite speculation that Trump might consider other candidates for a possible second Supreme Court nomination, he said in May 2017 that he would make his next appointment from the same list he used to choose Gorsuch (the combined 21 names given on either of the two lists he released during the campaign), describing the list as "a big thing" for him and his supporters.Trump added five further candidates to the list on November 17, 2017.
Note: Names marked with a single asterisk (*) were included on the original short list of eleven potential candidates for the Scalia vacancy released by the Trump campaign on May 18, 2016. Names marked with a double asterisk (**) were included on the additional short list of ten more potential candidates released on September 23, 2016. Names marked with a triple asterisk (***) were added to the revised short list of November 17, 2017.
Merrick Brian Garland is an American lawyer and jurist who serves as the Chief United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He has served on that court since 1997.
The Roberts Court is the time since 2005 during which the Supreme Court of the United States has been led by Chief Justice John Roberts. It is generally considered more conservative than the preceding Rehnquist Court, as a result of the retirement of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the subsequent confirmation of the more conservative Justice Samuel Alito in her place.
Neil McGill Gorsuch is an American lawyer who serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was nominated by Donald Trump to succeed Antonin Scalia and took the oath of office on April 10, 2017.
David Ryan Stras is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He is a former Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
President Barack Obama made two successful appointments to the Supreme Court of the United States. The first was Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice David H. Souter. Sotomayor was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 6, 2009, by a vote of 68–31. The second appointment was that of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace the retired John Paul Stevens. Kagan was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 5, 2010, by a vote of 63–37.
Amul Roger Thapar is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He is a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky and former United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Thapar was the first South Asian federal judge in American history. He was also President Trump's first Court of Appeals appointment and Trump's second judicial appointment after Justice Neil Gorsuch. Thapar is frequently discussed as a short-lister for the Supreme Court of the United States.
Patricia Ann Millett is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She formerly headed the Supreme Court practice at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Millett also was a longtime former assistant to the United States Solicitor General and served as an occasional blogger for SCOTUSblog. At the time of her confirmation to the D.C. Circuit, she had argued 32 cases before the United States Supreme Court. In February 2016 The New York Times identified her as a potential nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.
Ketanji Brown Jackson is a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. In 2016, she was reportedly interviewed as one of Barack Obama's potential nominees for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia.
The appointment and confirmation of Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States involves several steps set forth by the United States Constitution, which have been further refined and developed by decades of tradition. Candidates are nominated by the President of the United States and must face a series of hearings in which both the nominee and other witnesses make statements and answer questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which can vote to send the nomination to the full United States Senate. Confirmation by the Senate allows the President to formally appoint the candidate to the court. The Constitution does not set any qualifications for service as a Justice, thus the President may nominate any individual to serve on the Court.
U.S. President Barack Obama nominated over four hundred individuals for federal judgeships during his presidency. Of these nominations, Congress confirmed 329 judgeships, 173 during the 111th & 112th Congresses and 156 during the 113th and 114th Congresses.
Allison Hartwell Eid is a United States Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit who previously served as the 95th Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.
Joan Louise Larsen is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and a former Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.
On March 16, 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States to succeed Antonin Scalia, who had died one month earlier. At the time of his nomination, Garland was the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
On January 31, 2017, soon after taking office, President Donald Trump, a Republican, nominated Neil Gorsuch for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States to succeed Antonin Scalia, who had died almost one year earlier. Then-president Barack Obama, a Democrat, nominated Merrick Garland to succeed Scalia on March 16, 2016, but the nomination was stonewalled by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. Majority leader Mitch McConnell declared that as the presidential election cycle had already commenced, making the appointment of the next justice a political issue to be decided by voters. The Senate Judiciary Committee refused to consider the Garland nomination, thus keeping the vacancy open through the end of Obama's presidency on January 20, 2017.
Neomi Jehangir Rao is an American jurist and former academic and law professor who serves as a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, appointed by President Donald Trump. She previously served in the Trump Administration from 2017 to 2019 as Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Amy Coney Barrett is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She is also a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School and was a John M. Olin Fellow in Law at George Washington University Law School.
Daniel Desmond Domenico is a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado.
President Donald Trump entered office with a significant number of judicial vacancies, including a Supreme Court vacancy due to the death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016. President Trump had made approximately 50 judicial nominations by September 15, 2017, which was a significantly higher number of judicial nominations than any other recent president had made by that point in his presidency.
Rachel Peter Kovner is an American lawyer from New York and a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Allison Jones Rushing is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.