President Donald Trump retained both Sen. Mike Lee and his brother, Thomas Lee, a Utah Supreme Court justice, on his short list of possible U.S. Supreme Court nominees if he is reelected.
Trump announced he is retaining people who were on earlier lists he had released, and he added 20 new names, including Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
The Lee brothers also were put on the last such list that Trump issued in 2018 when Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy retired. Trump eventually appointed Brett Kavanaugh to replace him.
The Axios news site reported that Mike Lee may be among the top three choices for Trump. It said Judge Amy Coney Barrett is seen as next in line to fill a vacancy on the bench, followed by Judge Amul Thapar and Mike Lee.
Sen. Lee issued a statement Wednesday saying, “I started watching the Supreme Court — for fun — at the age of 10, and have spent most of my life learning everything I can about the law. So of course if President Trump were to nominate me to serve on the court, I would not decline. But I am very happy in the United States Senate, serving the great people of Utah.”
Lee’s father, Rex Lee, served as solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan, which gave his young son a front-row seat to history.
Lee, who clerked for Associate Justice Samuel Alito at the Supreme Court and the circuit court level, is a lawyer who previously served as general counsel to then-Gov. Jon Huntsman as well as assistant U.S. attorney.
Lee has previously been supported for nomination to the Supreme Court by such people as his friend Sen. Ted Cruz, who was now added to Trump’s short list.
In 2018, Cruz told Fox News, “I think the single best choice President Trump could make is Sen. Mike Lee.”
Cruz added that Republicans haven’t always picked the most conservative jurists in the past — some nominees turned more liberal once on the court — but that “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mike Lee would be faithful to the Constitution and Bill of Rights. He’s not going to evolve.”
But Mike Lee has changed on the political front.
He was a “Never Trumper” in 2016. He voted for independent Evan McMullin as a protest and attempted to replace the former reality show star with Cruz as party nominee at the Republican National Convention.
He has made a full conversion in recent years, signing on as a co-chairman of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign in Utah and publicly praising the president’s policies more often than criticizing him. He delivered Utah’s 40 delegate votes to Trump at this year’s GOP convention, saying: “In Utah, we love the Founding Fathers and we love the idea of four more years [of Trump]."
Just last week in a political rally in Pennsylvania, Trump said Lee “is doing excellent," at the same time he said Utah Sen. Mitt Romney couldn’t be elected as a dogcatcher.
Like his brother, Thomas Lee has also attracted notable support in the past as a conservative contender for the nation’s high court.
For example, some researchers in 2017 published a study seeking to find who among Trump’s list would be most likely to fill the role that the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, a die-hard conservative jurist, had on the court. Their conclusion: Thomas Lee had the best chance.
Weighting different factors such as practicing and promoting originalism, citing Scalia’s works and how often a judge wrote a separate opinion from colleagues as Scalia was wont to do, Thomas Lee was given a 99.4% chance of being in the Scalia mold.
Thomas Lee was appointed to the Utah Supreme Court in 2010 by Gov. Gary Herbert. He received his law degree with high honors from the University of Chicago. He was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Before his appointment to the bench, Justice Lee was a full-time law professor at Brigham Young University. He also developed a part-time appellate practice, arguing numerous cases in federal courts throughout the country and in the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2004 and 2005, he served as deputy assistant attorney general in the civil division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The court’s oldest members are Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, and Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, both liberals, and Justice Clarence Thomas, 72, and Justice Samuel Alito, 70, two conservatives. Ginsburg made news this summer when she announced she is being treated for a recurrence of cancer but has no plans to step down.
On Wednesday, Trump said, “Other than matters of war and peace, a Supreme Court nomination is the most important decision an American president can make. For this reason, candidates for president owe the American people a specific list of individuals they consider for the U.S. Supreme Court.”
He said people on his list would protect the Constitution and warned that unknown nominees from Democrat Joe Biden could threaten fundamental freedoms.
“In the recent past, many of our most treasured freedoms, including religious liberty, free speech and the right to keep and bear arms, have been saved by a single vote on the U.S Supreme Court,” Trump said.
He added, “Radical justices will erase the Second Amendment, silence political speech and require taxpayers to fund extreme late-term abortion. They will give unelected bureaucrats the power to destroy millions of American jobs. They will remove the words ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Trump also said “they will unilaterally declare the death penalty unconstitutional, even for the most depraved mass murderers. They will erase national borders, cripple police departments and grant new protections to anarchists, rioters, violent criminals and terrorists.”
The Biden campaign would not comment Wednesday on Trump’s challenge for him to release a similar list of his potential nominees, BuzzFeed reported.
Biden hasn’t identified the qualifications he will be looking for in an appointee except to pledge earlier this year that he would name a Black woman to the high court.