Willett is the only candidate on this list with ties to the #NeverTrump camp. But overall, this list is notable for what it’s not: Exciting. It’s full of traditional candidates, many of whom had won a place on a wish list compiled by the conservative Heritage Foundation, reports The Washington Post’s Supreme Court reporter, Robert Barnes. Five are state Supreme Court judges, and the rest serve on the level of courts just below the Supreme Court, the federal circuit courts of appeal.
Here's a brief rundown on who made Trump’s Supreme Court short list, in alphabetical order:
Steven Colloton of Iowa
This Iowa native has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit since 2003. He has a pretty traditional law background — editor of the Yale Law Journal, clerked for Justice William H. Rehnquist in 1989 and '90, served as a U.S. attorney and worked for an independent federal investigative agency, once headed by Ken Starr, he of Bill Clinton impeachment trial fame. President George W. Bush appointed him U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, and he rose to the appeals court in 2003.
Allison Eid of Colorado
Eid has served on Colorado's Supreme Court for the past decade. Before that, she was the solicitor general for Colorado, which means she defended state agencies and officials in court. She’s a University of Chicago Law School grad and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed her to serve on a committee to write the history of the Supreme Court. Colorado’s Republican governor at the time, Bill Owens, then appointed her to serve on the state Supreme Court. She won reelection to the job in 2008, with 75 percent of the vote.
Raymond Gruender of Missouri
Gruender is on the 8th Circuit alongside Colloton. He’s a George W. Bush appointee and has more of a political background than some of the judges on this list. Perhaps as a result, he’s consistently mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee by Republicans. In 1996, he served as the Missouri state director for GOP nominee Bob Dole’s presidential campaign, and he served as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri before the Senate confirmed him to his current job, 97 to 1. He wrote the opinion that ruled that a 1978 pregnancy law does not give female employees the right to contraceptive coverage, which opponents of the Affordable Care Act have used to take their case to the U.S Supreme Court.
Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania
Hardiman is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and also a George W. Bush appointee. He’s a Georgetown Law School graduate and has written two majority opinions that were reviewed by the Supreme Court: one supporting the strengthening of mandatory minimum sentences for criminals, and the others supporting a Pennsylvania jail’s policy of strip-searching the people it arrests, arguing that it does not violate a person’s Fourth Amendment right of unreasonable searches and seizures.
Raymond Kethledge of Michigan
Kethledge serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit and is — you guessed it — a George W. Bush appointee. Before joining the bench, he was the legal counsel for Spencer Abraham, a Republican U.S. senator from Michigan and former secretary of energy. It took Kethledge two years to get the job he has now because Michigan’s two Democratic senators opposed him (mostly for political reasons, it seemed; by opposing Kethledge, they ended up getting a Clinton nominee to the court out of the deal.) Once on the court, Kethledge has voted in favor of a Republican-backed law prohibiting public employee unions from collecting union dues on their paychecks.
Joan Larsen of Michigan
Larsen serves on Michigan’s Supreme Court. She’s a Northwestern Law School graduate, and she’s clerked for none other than the man Trump hopes she’ll replace: Justice Antonin Scalia. She worked as a private lawyer in D.C. and was a legal adviser to President George W. Bush around the time, critics pointed out, he was receiving controversial legal advice about waterboarding. Larsen said she didn’t work on that: “I read about them in the newspapers, just like you did.” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) appointed her to the court in 2015. Also worth noting here: She faces voters this November, just like Trump, so it will be interesting to see how she plays this in a blue-leaning state.
Thomas Lee of Utah
Lee is the associate chief justice for Utah’s Supreme Court, where GOP Gov. Gary Herbert appointed him in 2010. He’s a University of Chicago Law School graduate and clerked for the high court’s Thomas before going into private practice and teaching at Brigham Young University. He’s argued before the Supreme Court and, like many people on this list, worked in the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration. Oh, and his brother happens to be Mike Lee, the U.S. senator from Utah. Senator Lee was considered for this list, too, reports The Post’s Barnes, but given his adamant support for Ted Cruz, he was dropped in favor of his brother.
William Pryor of Alabama
Pryor is Alabama's former attorney general; at the time he was the youngest state attorney general in the United States, according to AL.com. George W. Bush nominated him to be an appeals court judge, and today he serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. During his confirmation hearings, Pryor called Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” He was eventually confirmed 53 to 45.
David Stras of Minnesota
Stras is an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court and a former University of Minnesota Law School professor. He's a University of Kansas Law School graduate and clerked for Thomas on the Supreme Court. He was also a D.C. prosecutor for white-collar crimes. Then-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) appointed him to the state Supreme Court in 2010, and he was believed to be the first Jewish justice on that court. (He would become the fourth on the current federal high court, joining Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen G. Breyer.)
Diane Sykes of Wisconsin
Trump hinted at Sykes’s potential for this list back in February, saying he’d like to have a conservative justice “tailored to be just like Justice Scalia.” She’s a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit and a former justice on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. Before that, she won election to a newly created trial judge spot on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 1992. Her ex-husband, a conservative Milwaukee talk-radio host named Charlie Sykes, just happens to be the guy who strenuously opposed Trump in the state’s presidential primary and gave Trump a grilling on live radio. Charlie Sykes said his ex would make a great Supreme Court justice.
Don Willett of Texas
Willett, a member of the Texas Supreme Court, is probably the most colorful character on this list. He's known in judicial circles as “the tweeting judge” for tweeting tongue-in-cheek stuff like this.
“I’m the most avid judicial tweeter in America, which is like being the tallest Munchkin in Oz,” he once said, according to the Dallas Morning News. In fact, the Texas state House named him the state's Tweeter Laureate in 2015. Willett, who was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2005 by then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) and is one of the bench’s most conservative justices, is also close to Cruz. The Austin American-Statesman reported that making Trump’s list caught Willett — “dressed casually without his trademark bow tie” — by surprise. Perhaps that’s because Willett once tweeted this about Trump’s potential high court nominees.