RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
All right, amid the uproar over the president's pandemic response, a new item appeared on the White House schedule yesterday, and it was very clearly a change of subject.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am announcing 20 additions to my original list of candidates for the United States Supreme Court.
MARTIN: That list served him well in energizing conservatives back in 2016. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports on what he is offering in 2020.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Administration insiders concede that this list of 20 names is avowedly more political. While the previous three lists included just one elected politician and no administration officials, this one includes three U.S. senators, all fire-breathing conservative Republicans - Arkansas' Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz of Texas and Missouri's Josh Hawley. All three have directly or indirectly criticized Chief Justice John Roberts for not being conservative enough, and all three have presidential ambitions. Indeed, Hawley tweeted that he's not really interested in a seat on the court.
Also on the list are a top White House lawyer and two top officials from the Trump Justice Department, including former Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who've carried Trump's legal banner in the courts.
Perhaps the most interesting name on the list is Paul Clement, who served as solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration and is considered perhaps the best legal advocate among the very able lawyers who practice regularly before the Supreme Court. Clement has an added value. He's represented a variety of conservative interests before the court, from gun rights advocates to religious groups to groups opposed to Obamacare.
As for federal judges on the list, they're all Trump appointees with records hostile to abortion, voting rights legislation, LGBT rights and regulation of business and the environment.
According to sources involved in compiling the list, the White House counsel, as is usual, presided over the process, but White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was aggressively involved, and even the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, got into the act, as did some conservative senators like Hawley, who pushed back against including federal appeals court judge Neomi Rao because of some of her writings prior to becoming a judge. But as a judge, she's written some of the lower court decisions most supportive of Trump.
With the latest list of 20 new names now added to the 45 names on his previous lists, Trump on Wednesday blasted Democrat Joe Biden for failing to release a comparable list. And the president issued a dark warning about the future if Biden is elected and has an opportunity to pick one or more justices.
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TRUMP: Radical justices will erase the Second Amendment, silence political speech and require taxpayers to fund extreme late-term abortion.
TOTENBERG: In fact, the court's five conservative justices are all in good health, and two of them, Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, are the youngest members of the court at 53 and 55 respectively. The only ailing justice is 87-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, leader of the court's liberal wing, who's being treated for a fifth bout with cancer, her second cancer in less than two years.
Should she leave the court, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said that the GOP would fill the seat, even though McConnell four years ago refused for nearly a year to allow hearings on President Obama's nominee to fill the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly in February of 2016. McConnell's justification for blocking the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland was that the voters had a right to make their views known in the presidential election, a rationale that GOP leader is not embracing this year.
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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