Klobuchar Would Only Reveal Judges List After Taking Office

Klobuchar Would Only Reveal Judges List After Taking Office
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Klobuchar Would Only Reveal Judges List After Taking Office
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Sen. Amy Klobuchar is the first Democrat to say she’ll be poised to nominate a full slate of qualified judges on the first day of her presidency, though she’s not naming names for the time being.

The admission, which Klobuchar made Monday in an NPR podcast, comes after conservative and liberal groups have recently called for more transparency from the Democratic primary candidates about the judges they plan to name to the federal bench.

Conservative groups immediately pounced on Klobuchar’s comments and called on the Minnesota senator and other Democrats to stop “hiding” and produce the names of the prospective judicial nominations they would consider if president.

President Trump, while still a candidate in 2016, demonstrated unprecedented transparency when he pledged to choose his Supreme Court nominees from a listed vetted and compiled largely by Leonard Leo, an outside adviser to Trump who was on leave from the Federalist Society.

That step paid off in spades for Trump by reassuring Republican voters exactly how the judicial branch would change under his watch. Democrats, conservative groups say, should now do the same.

“2020 Dem prez candidate @AmyKlobuchar now admits in an interview with @NPRPolitics that she actually *is* working on a secret list of possible #SCOTUS candidates,” Carrie Severino, the chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, said in a series of tweets Monday.

“Now here’s the real question: What is @AmyKlobuchar hiding? We know that the fringe socialists that are now front-and-center in the Democratic party are pretty extreme. Just imagine what their judges are like. #ReleaseTheList,” she added.

In the NPR podcast, Klobuchar said she wouldn’t consider releasing the names of potential judicial nominees unless and until she manages to emerge from the crowded primary field victorious and then ousts Trump in the general election.

“There’s going to be a lot of retirements, a lot of openings, and we have to move immediately,” she remarked.

Such swift moves require Democrats to amass a list of potential nominees, including those slated to fill the Supreme Court, well before the results of the 2020 contest become clear. In fact, liberal judicial activist groups have already announced that they are working to compile a roster or pool of progressive judges who could fill the courts if a Democrat wins the White House next year.

Building the Bench, an initiative by the Alliance for Justice and other liberal organizations, in June said the group had begun working to identify progressive judges they believe are best-suited to fill likely vacancies. The Judicial Crisis Network and other groups have dubbed the effort a “secret list” and have called on AFJ and Democratic presidential contenders to release it.

The 40-year-old AFJ has played an instrumental role in every high-profile judicial battle since it successfully derailed the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork in 1987. A spokeswoman for the alliance previously told RealClearPolitics that it isn’t consulting or sharing potential names of qualified candidates with Democratic presidential campaigns.

The AFJ will only share the names with an incoming administration if and when Trump is defeated, the spokeswoman said.

In recent weeks, conservatives have been ratcheting up the transparency pressure. JCN ran a TV ad during the first Democratic presidential debate, referring to the Democrats’ “secret list” and calling on former Vice President Joe Biden and other candidates appearing on the stage to release theirs.

Biden, Klobuchar and most of the other Democratic hopefuls have declined to respond to RealClearPolitics’ questions about whether they plan to release any names of judicial nominations, as Trump did in 2016.

Klobuchar, a former prosecutor who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday admitted that the issue is an important one for any potential Democratic administration to prepare for, although she signaled that she didn’t think a Democrat could properly vet candidates until winning the White House and beginning the transition process.

“I think that you interview people, you make decisions – you can’t do that as a candidate,” the three-term senator told NPR. “You can’t vet them like you should. As a candidate, you don’t have the FBI.”

Conservative activists don’t think the formal vetting process is what’s really standing in the way of such hesitancy to name names.

“I don’t understand why Democratic presidential candidates are afraid of disclosing a similar list other than the fact that the types of judges who they would nominate to the Supreme Court would scare the heck out of American voters,” Mike Davis, a former GOP Senate and White House aide who runs the conservative Article III Project, told RealClearPolitics.

“You can see who Trump picked and why,” he added. “We have no idea who Amy Klobuchar is going to put on her list and why. Senator Amy Klobuchar was reasonable. Presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar is much more liberal – it’s like chasing Amy.”

The transparency push is not coming just from the right. Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice, a progressive advocacy group, recently joined the chorus.

“The Democratic nominee for president should release a list of potential nominees,” Fallon told NPR. “Not just because it is good politics in the sense that it would rally a progressive base behind a more concrete  possibility about who we might get on the Supreme Court if we vote for that person. It’s also the right thing to do from the standpoint of explaining what your priorities are.”

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.

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