Amid the partisan brawl brewing over replacing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Donald Trump is considering potential nominees, and one of them could be a professor at the University of Michigan Law School.

Trump told reporters Monday he will nominate a woman for the seat, and in a phone interview with Fox & Friends, he said he was considering “a great one from Michigan” among a shortlist of up to five candidates.

On Monday, The Detroit News reported a source close to the nomination process confirmed Trump was considering Michigan Judge Joan Larsen of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana and Judge Barbara Lagoa of Florida are also considered frontrunners for Trump’s shortlist.

Larsen is an adjunct professor at the Law School and has been an attorney for more than 25 years. She previously clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court and served as the deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel under former President George W. Bush. 

Law professor Richard Friedman told The Daily that Larsen is the type of person he feels a Republican administration should consider, given her expertise and conservative history.

“She’s a very smart, careful, analytical, conscientious person. And I think some people don’t want that — they just want somebody who will throw up ideological red meat, and she isn’t that,” Friedman said. “If they want somebody who’s a capable person who would bring credit to the court but conservative judicial instincts, I think she’d fit the bill.” 

In 2015, Larsen was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, but her term was cut short when she was appointed to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and confirmed in November 2017.

Larsen did not respond to The Michigan Daily’s request to comment in time for publication.

Eli Savit, a lecturer at the Law School and the Democratic candidate for Washtenaw County prosecutor in November, said he hoped Republicans respect Ginsburg’s dying wish that she not be replaced until the next president is elected.

“I have nothing bad personally to say about Joan Larsen,” Savit said. “I do fervently hope that Justice Ginsburg’s last wishes will be respected and that (a) replacement will not be selected until the next president is installed.” 

After Scalia passed away in 2016, Trump considered nominating Larsen to fill the vacant seat, though he ended up nominating Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Savit acknowledged that the president has the power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court, but referenced Justice Merrick Garland’s appointment process in 2016, saying the process “speaks to the degree to which hypocritical partisanship has seized Washington.” 

“It is particularly heartbreaking to think that (Ginsburg) could be replaced by somebody who does not share her values or her way of thinking about the law in equality and justice,” Savit said. 

He added that Trump ran the risk of selecting a potential replacement who “could threaten many of the things that she fought for and wrote about throughout her career.”

Savit previously clerked for Ginsburg during the 2014 Supreme Court term. He spoke to The Daily while in Washington, D.C., for Ginsburg’s memorial and said he is saddened by her passing, but fortunate that he can be with other former clerks of hers, whom he referred to as her “extended family.”

Savit said one of the things that stuck with him about Ginsburg was her focus on people. He recalled a late night discussing a seemingly low-profile case with the justice after all of the other clerks had gone home. The conversation was something he said defined his career in law.  

“This wasn’t the major case, it was not one of the ones that grabbed the headlines in The New York Times,” Savit said. “It was a case that was important to the people that were involved in it, and her mind was just going to the impact of that case on the individuals that were involved in that particular dispute and how it would affect their real lives. That always stuck with me because you think about the Supreme Court as being this body that decides legal issues and major cases.” 

Ryan Fisher, chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans and LSA junior, wrote to The Daily in an email that confirming a justice under the Trump administration could have significant impacts on the upcoming general election in November, stressing the importance of sealing a 6-3 conservative majority on the court.

“Without a justice to nominate, we imagine that Biden’s progressive base may be less likely to show up on Election Day. Swing voters will move in one direction or another, but this will largely depend on the hearings and the media coverage of this impending nomination process,” Fisher said.

The University’s chapter of College Democrats did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment in time for publication.

Second-year Law student Kevin Decker was hesitant about the prospect of nominating a new justice to the Supreme Court before the election.

“I’m a little worried about the consequences that it might have on our democracy, trying to replace someone so close to the election and a judge that may have a role to play in determining the outcome of the election,” Decker said.

Though Decker said Larsen would not be his personal choice to fill the vacancy, he believes her consideration for the role reflects the caliber of education at the Law School.

“It’s nice to have someone from the school be nominated, and I think that’s helpful for the school’s reputation in some sense, although ultimately that sort of depends on the quality of the decisions that result from Judge Larsen if she were to be nominated and confirmed,” Decker said.

Daily Staff Reporters Sarah Payne and Dominick Sokotoff can be reached at paynesm@umich.edu and sokotoff@umich.edu. 

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