In the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan made headway with women voters by pledging to name the first woman justice to the Supreme Court. In 1981, as president, Reagan made history by nominating Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court.
Forty years later, President Donald Trump finds himself in a similar situation.
The palace intrigue has already boiled down his choice to two women judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals: Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa.
These two jurists have very well-padded legal careers.
Judge Barrett is a devout Roman Catholic serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Seventh Circuit. She attended the University of Notre Dame Law School, and clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Her name is not a new one to the SCOTUS nominee shortlist. She made the Top Five list of prospects for appointment twice before during the two times Trump had the opportunity to fill vacancies to the Supreme Court. He ultimately chose Justices Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, respectively.
Barrett is perceived as the presumptive favorite for nomination this time. It is widely assumed White House personnel, and the President himself, have interviewed her now on multiple occasions.
Judge Lagoa is also Catholic. She is a Cuban-American jurist serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Eleventh Circuit, attended Columbia Law School, and has served on the Florida State Supreme Court. That her name is in the mix is quite interesting because, like Justice O’Connor in 1981, Lagoa is believed to have a legal philosophy that would uphold the controversial pro-choice ruling Roe v. Wade.
Lagoa’s possible nomination is seen as bulletproof, since liberal senators would have a hard time challenging the first Cuban-American woman on Florida’s high court.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has been routinely attacked as among the worst for prisoner conviction appeals. Justice Sotomayor has called the 11th Circuit “out of step with other courts.”
That could undermine the president’s monumental criminal justice reform legislation that he championed throughout his first term and that sets him apart from the Biden-Harris ticket’s past of the 1992 Crime Bill and Harris’ prosecutorial record on nonviolent drug offenses.
Meanwhile, Judge Lagoa’s nomination would further cement the court as an “Ivy League Court,” in which every single justice on the Court would be from an Ivy League law school.
Judges Barrett and Lagoa represent states in battleground locations. Judge Barrett’s federal district encompasses Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana; Judge Lagoa’s federal district encompasses Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that whoever Trump decides to appoint as his nominee to Justice Ginsburg’s seat “will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
Liberal and progressive commentators and outlets have expressed outrage over the hypocrisy that McConnell refused to let Judge Merrick Garland’s vote come before the Senate when Barack Obama nominated him to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.
No matter who Trump decides to nominate, he or she is almost surely destined to be in the most contentious confirmation fight in the history of the Supreme Court.
Michael Cozzi is a Ph.D candidate at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
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