It’s an attractive prospect that Trump believes could boost both his loyal base and also provide him with an opportunity to improve his position among those voters whose support is now suffering, said people familiar with Trump’s thinking.
The president has long issued a possible nomination to the third Supreme Court as justification for his reelection. But as the court’s term ends, Trump has begun reflecting on how a more immediate vacancy can help improve his weakened political position in the months leading up to the November election.
“We have two Supreme Court justices: Judge Gorsuch, Judge Kavanaugh, they are great,” Trump told his supporters at his rally in Tulsa earlier this month. “We have two and we could get some more. Yes. We could get some.”
Members of the liberal wing of the court, including its two oldest justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, are considered unlikely to withdraw while Trump remains in office. That has led to speculation around the two oldest Republican nominees, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, though any clues to his future plans remain narrow.
Trump has made the decisions as a personal reprimand: “Do you have the impression that the Supreme Court did not like me?” he asked his Twitter followers earlier this month, and has vowed to provide another list of conservative jurists that he would consider for the higher court if he were elected to another term.
It almost certainly includes Amy Coney Barrett, the federal appeals court judge who appeared on Trump’s previous lists and was a finalist in both of her previous nomination contests. If nominated and confirmed, she would become the fourth woman on the court and the only female judge nominated by a Republican. In conversations about the Supreme Court, Trump has said that nominating a judge could help improve his position among moderate white women, among whom support for Trump is eroding, according to people familiar with the matter.
“So far we are not doing very well,” he said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network last week. “We have had a lot of losses with a court that was supposed to be in our favor. This is just to show what it means: it will probably have a couple more judges in the next four years. It could even be more than that, it could be three or 4. If you have a radical group of leftist judges, religion, I think, will be almost wiped out in the United States. “
Still, Trump’s silenced response to a ruling that extended protections in the workplace to LGBTQ Americans was a reflection of the White House’s general caution in speaking too forcefully on an issue where views have dramatically changed in the last decade. Trump said that he alone would “live” with the decision.
“I was surprised,” Trump said of Gorsuch’s position in the interview with CBN. Trump has not forgotten that during his nomination process, Gorsuch criticized the president’s attacks on the judiciary. That caused Trump to question his loyalty and, at one point, ask if he could withdraw his name from consideration.
A vacancy on the Supreme Court during an election year would electrify the still-budding presidential campaign, and Democrats are likely to insist that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adhere to the same terms he established in 2016, when he barred that Merrick Garland, the nominee of then President Barack Obama, replace the late Antonin Scalia, if considered, said whoever was elected should be responsible for filling the opening.
McConnell said in February that despite his position four years ago, the Republican-led Senate would fill a vacancy this year, arguing that the situation is different now because the Senate and the White House are controlled by the same party.
Republican voters have long been motivated by the Supreme Court in a way that Democrats have not. Trump has taken advantage of the issue, claiming that his rival Joe Biden would nominate radical judges out of step with the country.
“These horrible and politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts at people who pride themselves on calling themselves Republican or Conservative,” Trump tweeted shortly after a decision was issued rejecting his attempt to end the program. DACA. “We need more judges or we will lose our 2nd Amendment and everything else. Vote Trump 2020!”
Biden, meanwhile, has said he would nominate a black woman for the Supreme Court, but has not offered the same type of list that Trump promised.
As the court concludes its term, both Trump and close observers to the panel have been on the lookout for any hints of impending retirements.
As president, Trump has cultivated a relationship with Clarence Thomas, who turned 72 last week and is the court’s top associate judge. He invited Thomas and his wife Ginni to join him and the First Lady for dinner at the White House residence, and has sent birthday wishes in recent years. The Thomases were invited to a state dinner held in honor of Australia last September. Trump has appointed an increasing number of former Thomas legal employees to the top courts in the U.S.
Earlier last year, the president delighted Ginni Thomas and other right-wing activists for a one-hour meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, listening as they criticized issues such as women serving military and transgender rights, according to people. familiar with the meeting.
The group, and Thomas in particular, also expressed concern that some of the Trump supporters she had recommended for management positions were being blocked by Trump’s aides. Before and after, Thomas has issued memos to the White House with recommendations on what administrative staff might be unfair and names of possible replacements.
When Trump held his impeachment in the East Room in February, Ginni Thomas was one of his guests.
Even for some within the White House, the relationship between Trump and the Thomases has been the subject of speculation. Some attendees have privately wondered if Trump’s courtship of the couple was motivated by some political ends, such as organizing a properly scheduled retirement.
Others close to the president insist that is not the case and say Trump has simply tried to develop relationships with prominent conservatives in Washington, a city where he knew few people before coming as president in 2017.
In any case, Thomas has recently found himself prominent on the court and some close to him have stifled speculation that he might be preparing to retire. After decades of near-silence from the bench, he regularly asked questions while making arguments on a conference call this spring. A documentary about his life, directed by Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker tapped by Trump to direct the United States Agency for Global Media, recently broadcast on PBS.