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Who might succeed Justice Ginsburg? Trump's short list begins with these five women (and one man)

Richard Wolf
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – The line to succeed the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court likely starts with these federal appeals court judges:

Amy Coney Barrett 

Federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett

A finalist for Trump's second high court nomination, which ultimately went to Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, Barrett, 48, is a favorite of religious conservatives.

Barrett rocketed to the top of Trump's list of potential nominees after her 2017 confirmation hearing for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, when Democrats cited her deep Catholic faith not as an advantage but an obstacle. She was confirmed, 55-43.

"If you're asking whether I take my faith seriously and I'm a faithful Catholic, I am," Barrett responded during that hearing, "although I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge."

She has written that Supreme Court precedents are not sacrosanct, which liberals have interpreted as a threat to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide. 

RBG's opinions and dissents:From VMI to Voting Rights Act

In a 2013 Texas Law Review article exploring when the Supreme Court should overturn past decisions, Barrett wrote that she agrees "with those who say that a justice’s duty is to the Constitution, and that it is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it.”

She also wrote that the public’s response to controversial cases like Roe v. Wade “reflects public rejection” of the idea that legal precedent “can declare a permanent victor in a divisive constitutional struggle.”

A former member of the University of Notre Dame’s “Faculty for Life,” Barrett signed a 2015 letter to Catholic bishops that affirmed the “teachings of the Church as truth.” Among those teachings: the “value of human life from conception to natural death” and marriage-family values “founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.”

Barrett wrote in 2017 that Chief Justice John Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning in order to save it. Roberts creatively interpreted as a tax the law’s penalty on those who don’t buy insurance, allowing the court to uphold the constitutionality of the law, she said.

The Indiana resident is the mother of seven children, including two from Haiti and one with special needs. She spent two decades as a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, from which she holds her law degree. She also clerked for Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

Barbara Lagoa

Then-Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa pictured along with by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally.

Federal appeals court Judge Barbara Lagoa, 52, was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit last year. A Cuban American from the swing state of Florida, she could help Trump in two ways politically.

The president nominated her for the Atlanta-based court last September, and she was confirmed by an unusually lopsided 80-15 Senate vote in November. Most of Trump's nominees win confirmation narrowly.

Before that, Lagoa served briefly on the Florida Supreme Court. She served for a dozen years on the state's 3rd District Court of Appeals after being appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush. There she took part in more than 11,000 cases and wrote more than 470 opinions.

Lagoa is considered a protégé of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close Trump ally. In 2019, DeSantis appointed Lagoa to the Florida Supreme Court, making her the first Cuban American woman to serve there. 

Lagoa was in the majority last week whenthe 11th Circuit ruled 6-4 that hundreds of thousands of Florida felons who have served their time cannot vote this fall or in the future unless they pay fees and fines owed to the state.

More:Federal appeals court blocks Florida's felons from voting until fees and fines are paid

The decision along strict ideological lines, with all five judges appointed by Trump in the majority, could have a major impact on the presidential race because of Florida's history of razor-thin margins. In 2000, George W. Bush won the White House with a 537-vote victory margin there.

"Florida’s felon re-enfranchisement scheme is constitutional," Lagoa wrote in a 20-page concurrence. "It falls to the citizens of the state of Florida and their elected state legislators, not to federal judges, to make any additional changes to it."

Perhaps more striking was a one-page concurrence penned by Chief Judge William Pryor, who also wrote the majority opinion. Signed only by himself and Lagoa, it said that "in the end, as our judicial oath acknowledges, we will answer for our work to the Judge who sits outside of human history."

A graduate of Florida International University and Columbia University Law School, Lagoa was raised in Hialeah, Florida, the daughter of parents who fled Fidel Castro's Cuba. 

Joan Larsen

Federal appeals court Judge Joan Larsen

Like Barrett, Larsen, 51, spent much of her career as a professor, at the University of Michigan Law School.

She was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2015, elected to that court the following year, and nominated by Trump to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 2017. She was confirmed by a 60-38 vote that November.

Larsen graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and Northwestern University School of Law, where she was first in her class. She clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

"We have differing views on law, politics and religion," she wrote in The New York Times about Scalia's former law clerks three days after his death in 2016. "But I have yet to meet a Scalia clerk who was not grateful to the man who taught us, shaped us, and launched us into our lives in the law."

More:Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies, setting up nomination fight

Larsen was a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush from 2002-2003.

Defending the doctrine of originalism, or strict adherence to the Constitution, Larsen wrote in a 2010 law review article that originalists do not oppose change. "Originalism typically is quite comfortable with change; its only enemy is change imposed by judges," she wrote. "An originalist’s Constitution can thus easily keep up with the times. Judges are just not licensed to be the engines of change."

Britt Grant

Federal appeals court Judge Britt Grant, at her swearing-in with now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The youngest frontrunner for Ginsburg's seat, Grant, 42, shares a close friendship with Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, for whom she clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Grant, a former Georgia Supreme Court justice and solicitor general, was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in 2018 and confirmed 52-46.

While waiting for his own confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh conducted her swearing-in, lauding her as a "fair and even-handed" judge. Grant returned the favor, vowing that she would "strive to live up to Judge Kavanaugh’s example of integrity, stability and commitment to the rule of law."

A graduate of Wake Forest University and Stanford Law School, where she was president of the conservative Federalist Society chapter, Grant previously worked briefly in George W. Bush's administration and for former Georgia governor Nathan Deal.

Allison Eid

Federal appeals court Judge Allison Eid

Trump's choice of Neil Gorsuch as his first Supreme Court nominee in 2017 opened the door for Eid, 55, who succeeded him on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

A former law clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, Eid, a Coloradan like Gorsuch, graduated from Stanford University and the University of Chicago Law School. She later taught at the University of Colorado Law School.

After serving briefly as Colorado's solicitor general and for a decade on the state Supreme Court, Eid made Trump's original list of potential high court nominees in 2016. She was nominated the following year to the Tenth Circuit and confirmed, 56-41, in November.

Amul Thapar 

Federal appeals court Judge Amul Thapar

When Trump embarked in 2017 on what would become the nomination and confirmation of more than 200 federal judges, Gorsuch came first. Then came Thapar.

A Kentucky protégé of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Thapar (pronounced uh-MALL Thuh-PAR), 51, would be the first Indian American to reach the nation's highest court. He was confirmed to his current post on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit by a 52-44 vote in May 2017.

A former Kentucky judge and U.S. attorney with vast trial court experience – a rarity on the Supreme Court – Thapar was born in Detroit to Indian immigrants and grew up in Toledo, Ohio with his maternal grandfather, who fought with Mahatma Ghandi for India’s independence.

Thapar’s father, Raj, has said the family urged Amul to become a physician but he had only one dream – to become a justice on the Supreme Court.

He studied economics and philosophy at Boston College before earning his law degree at the University of California-Berkeley. He converted to Catholicism upon getting married and has three children.

On the appeals court, Thapar has voted to uphold Ohio's method of lethal injection for executions, as well as a Michigan county's practice of opening government meetings with Christian prayers.

More:Year of surprise Supreme Court rulings shows influence of Chief Justice John Roberts