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Trump misses a self-imposed deadline to release Supreme Court shortlist

It’s not the first time the president has blown through such a target — but this one represents a key priority for a coalition he'll need to re-assemble to stay in the White House.
Image: Donald Trump
The unfulfilled Supreme Court promise comes on a central issue for the president — one that helped him win the White House.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said months ago he’d release a shortlist of Supreme Court prospects by Sept. 1. That deadline came and went this week with no list.

It’s not the first time the president has committed to and then blown through a self-imposed deadline. Whether it’s a health care plan, tax legislation or an infrastructure bill, Trump has a tendency to issue a timeline — often “two weeks” — that doesn’t materialize.

But the Supreme Court promise comes on a central issue for the president, one that helped him win the White House after he released a shortlist of prospects in May 2016 that rallied conservative and evangelical voters — a coalition he'll need to re-assemble to stay in the White House.

“What’s more important is that he produce a list similar to what he produced in 2016. That’s far more important than the timing,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “The list of judges that Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society helped put together and then-candidate Trump announced was a critical component of his 2016 victory.”

Trump has installed more than 200 judges to lifetime appointments on federal courts — most of them young with a pedigree in conservatism, including Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — cementing a legacy that will outlast his presidency by generations.

His pledge to release a new Supreme Court shortlist came in a tweet on June 18, near the end of the court's last term after it blocked his attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for young people brought to the U.S. illegally.

And it was a focus of the Republican convention last month, when many speakers enticed viewers with the promise of four more years of filling the courts with conservatives. Trump told the crowd on the convention's first night the next president could appoint up to several justices.

Accepting renomination later that week, he boasted about the judges he has picked and again claimed Joe Biden, if elected, would “appoint justices who will wipe away your Second Amendment.”

It was a marked contrast to the Democratic convention, which largely ignored the courts in an attempt to assemble a diverse ideological coalition for Biden, one that includes Republicans who oppose Trump but have supported Trump’s judicial picks, such as former Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh suggested the president still plans to issue a list, but did not say when that would occur.

“President Trump has said he will again release a list of prospective Supreme Court nominees and Joe Biden should do the same. It was a very important issue in 2016 because it gave voters a clear picture of the kind of justices who would be selected in a Trump presidency,” Murtaugh said in a statement. “Voters deserve this kind of transparency and clarity.”

The White House declined to comment on a potential list.

None of the nine justices have announced an intent to retire, though the futures of some have been the focus of widespread speculation. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 87 and said this summer she’s treating a recurrence of cancer. Justice Stephen Breyer is 82. Another four justices are 65 or older.

History suggests it's not clear when Trump's promised list will arrive. Sometimes, it has taken more than double or triple that amount of time for a plan to materialize or a final outcome to be reached. Other times, the proposed action never comes together at all.

Trump vowed a “full and complete health care plan” would come by the end of August but no such proposal has been unveiled. He also indicated several times this summer there would be executive orders coming on immigration. Those didn’t emerge either.

Biden has promised to put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court if elected president and given a vacancy to fill.

Asked if he plans to release a list of potential nominees before the election, the Democrat's campaign gave no indication he would, but promised to “appoint judges who share his values and would protect the Constitution.”

"As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joe Biden was proud to oversee and support the confirmation of Justices Ginsburg and Breyer and lead the fight against many Reagan judicial nominees with horrible records on civil rights and civil liberties, like Judge Robert Bork,” said Biden campaign spokesman T.J. Ducklo.