Donald Trump's Potential Supreme Court Nominees Could Concern Conservatives

Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Republican U.S. presidential candidates debate sponsored by CBS News and the Republican National Committee in Greenville, South Carolina February 13, 2016.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Republican U.S. presidential candidates debate sponsored by CBS News and the Republican National Committee in Greenville, South Carolina February 13, 2016. | (Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump says he would consider nominating two federal judges to the United States Supreme Court — one who blocked an effort to defund Planned Parenthood and another who prosecuted Alabama's highest ranking judge for his refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument.

During Saturday night's presidential debate in South Carolina, the billionaire listed two federal judges he thinks would be excellent picks to have on the Supreme Court — Diane Sykes and Bill Pryor, who were both nominated to the United States Court of Appeals by President George W. Bush.

"In times of delay, we could have a Diane Sykes, or you could have a Bill Pryor, we have some fantastic people," Trump said. "But [the death of Scalia] is a tremendous blow to conservatism. It's a tremendous blow, frankly to our country."

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Pryor, who was the former attorney general of Alabama from 1997 until 2004, drew the ire of some evangelicals and conservatives when he helped lead an effort to oust Chief Justice of Alabama's Supreme Court Roy Moore for his refusal to obey a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments statue from the front of the state judicial building.

Pryor claimed that Moore "flagrantly disobeyed the law, incited the public to support his misconduct and undermined the integrity, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary."

"Because the chief justice intentionally and publicly engaged in misconduct, and because he remains unrepentant for his behavior, this court must remove the chief justice from office to protect the Alabama judiciary and the citizens who depend upon it for fair and impartial justice," Pryor wrote in a pre-trial brief.

In November 2003, Moore stood trial before an ethics panel for defying the federal court order. During the trial, Pryor cross-examined the suspended Moore and grilled him on whether he planned to continue disobeying the court order.

"If you resume your duties as chief justice after this proceeding, you will continue to acknowledge God as you have testified that you would today, no matter what any other official says?" Moore asked.

"Absolutely," Moore responded. "If I can clarify that. Without an acknowledgement of God, I cannot do my duty. I must acknowledge God. It says so in the Constitution of Alabama. It says so in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It says so in everything I have read."

"I will do the same thing this court did in starting with prayer. That's an acknowledgement of God," Moore added. "I would do the same thing that justices do when they place their hand on the Bible and say, 'So help me God.' That's an acknowledgment of God."

As a result of the trial, Moore was removed from his position of Chief Justice of Alabama but was later re-elected to the position in 2012.

When Pryor was nominated by Bush to the federal appeals court, reports that Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee tried to block the nomination because of a past statement Pryor made about the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. Pryor called the decision "the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law."

As for Sykes, she wrote the majority opinion in a 2013 Federal Court of Appeals case that ruled that the state of Indiana could not fully defund Planned Parenthood, America's largest abortion provider.

"The defunding law excludes Planned Parenthood from Medicaid for a reason unrelated to its fitness to provide medical services, violating its patients' statutory right to obtain medical care from the qualified provider of their choice," Sykes wrote.

Trump also indicated last summer that his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, who sits on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, would be a "phenomenal" justice on the Supreme Court. As a judge, Barry helped strike down a partial-birth abortion ban in New Jersey.

At the debate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz warned pro-life and conservative voters that Trump will nominate a "liberal" to the Supreme Court.

Trump responded to Cruz's charge that he will appoint a liberal to the Supreme Court by attacking Cruz for "pushing" John Roberts to be on the Supreme Court. Cruz then explained that he would have nominated his former boss, Mike Luttig, who was Justice Antonin Scalia's first law clerk.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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