WASHINGTON Presumptive Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump on Wednesday unveiled the names of 11 judges - eight men and three women, all white and all conservative - he would consider, if elected, to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
Six of them are judges who were appointed to federal appeals courts around the country by Republican former President George W. Bush. The other five serve on various state supreme courts.
Scalia's replacement could tip the ideological balance of the court, which now is evenly divided with four conservative justices and four liberals. Scalia, who died in February, was one of the court's most conservative justices.
"We're going to choose from, most likely from this list," Trump said in an interview with Fox News. But Trump said he could deviate from the list and added, "At a minimum we will keep people within this general realm."
All of Trump's 11 judges are listed as affiliated with the Federalist Society on the influential conservative legal group's website. The organization is known as a breeding ground for conservative legal thinkers.
It is unusual for a presidential candidate to release names of potential Supreme Court or Cabinet nominees before winning an election.
But Trump is working to assure conservatives in his own party that, if elected president on Nov. 8, he would not appoint a liberal or moderate to the court. Trump allies had encouraged him to announce the names of potential court nominees to allay fears among conservatives wary of a Trump presidency.
Trump's list includes: Steven Colloton of Iowa, a judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Raymond Gruender of Missouri, also a judge on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals; and Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, a judge on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.
It also includes: Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, a judge on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals; William Pryor of Alabama, a judge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals; and Diane Sykes of Wisconsin, a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The state supreme court jurists include: Allison Eid of Colorado; Joan Larsen of Michigan; Thomas Lee of Utah; David Stras of Minnesota; and Don Willett of Texas.
Democratic President Barack Obama in March named centrist appellate court judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy. But the Republican-led Senate has refused to hold confirmation hearings or a vote, insisting that Obama's successor should get to select Scalia's replacement.
Trump said in a statement that the 11 judges were "representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value" and said he would use the list as a guide for nominating a justice.
Willett in the past year has posted several comments on Twitter mocking Trump, even referring to him as "Darth Trump," a twist on the "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader. Willett last June posted about imagining Trump selecting a Supreme Court nominee.
"The mind reels. *weeps—can't finish tweet*," Willett wrote, suggesting he was crying at the idea.
Asked to comment on Willett's Twitter remarks, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said, "Mr. Trump’s sole focus is considering the best potential individuals based on their constitutional principles."
Lee is the brother of Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate.
"I don't know everyone on the list, but those I do know would all be great Supreme Court Justices. Of course, I do believe one name on that list stands head and shoulders above the rest," said Mike Lee, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that would consider any nomination.
Sykes is the former wife of conservative Wisconsin radio host Charles Sykes, who posted on Twitter that she would make a great justice but added, "I simply don't believe Trump."
Several of the judges have ruled against abortion and reproductive rights. Sykes, Colloton and Pryor have ruled against the Obama administration regarding religious objections to the contraception coverage requirement of the Obamacare healthcare law.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at his daily briefing that he would be surprised if any Democrat would describe any of Trump's picks "as a consensus nominee."
"But the individual President Obama has put forward is somebody that Republicans have described as a consensus nominee," Earnest said of Garland, adding that it would be wise for the Senate to act on Obama's nominee.
Liberal advocacy group People for the American Way said Trump's list included "conservative dream justices."
Most of the 11 judges did not respond to requests for comment.
"Joan Larsen is working along with the rest of Michigan's Supreme Court to provide common-sense, rule-of-law justice. That is her focus and will remain her focus," her campaign spokesman Stu Sandler said. Larsen was appointed to the post and is running for election to a full term.
(Reporting by Ginger Gibson, Lawrence Hurley, Susan Heavey, Timothy Gardner, Susan Cornwell and Alana Wise.; Editing by Will Dunham, Toni Reinhold)