Steven Colloton LAW ’88 is on a list of 21 possible Supreme Court nominees selected by President-elect Donald Trump to fill the vacant seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016.
Politico reported Jan. 3 that Trump has narrowed the list to about half a dozen candidates and Colloton is still a potential pick. The longer list, which Trump released last May and finalized in September, includes three graduates from Yale Law School and two from Harvard Law School.
The law blog SCOTUSblog said Tuesday that Trump expects to nominate a justice within two weeks of taking office.
Appointed by former President George W. Bush ’68 in 2003, Colloton serves as a federal judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. He was confirmed by a vote of 94–1.
On a superficial level, his background is similar to that of current justices. Colloton received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, alma mater of Justices Sonia Sotomayor LAW ’79 and Elena Kagan. While at the Law School, Colloton served as editor of the Yale Law Journal, as did Justices Samuel Alito LAW ’75 and Sotomayor. And like Chief Justice John Roberts, Colloton clerked for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
After the clerkship, Colloton served as a special assistant within the U.S. Justice Department and as an assistant U.S. attorney in northern Iowa, the state in which he was born and raised. While an assistant U.S. attorney , he spent one year working under independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr during the Whitewater investigation into real-estate transactions made by then-President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 and his wife Hillary Clinton LAW ’73.
“As far as I can tell he is a pretty typical high-level circuit judge,” said assistant professor of political science Deborah Beim. “He went to Princeton and Yale — that’s pretty typical of people who ultimately become justices on the Supreme Court.”
Beim, who researches the U.S. Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeals, said that over the past 30 years, Supreme Court appointments have followed a rough pattern of elite pedigree and ideological similarity, with Democratic presidents choosing more liberal justices and Republican presidents choosing more conservative ones. According to the Supreme Court blog, Colloton has held conservative positions on various issues ranging from capital punishment to abortion to religious freedom.
However, Beim added that Trump has proven himself to be an unconventional president-elect, and no one can know for certain if he will follow the pattern.
“There are many ways in which Trump seems like he will be a nontraditional president,” Beim said. “I don’t know that we can count on him following the same protocol of making the sort of typical and expected ideological choices that people have made in the past.”
Still, much of the Yale Law School community is unfamiliar with Colloton’s legal and political career. Out of 20 law students surveyed, none said they were familiar with Colloton or his possible nomination. Of four Yale faculty interviewed, three said they are not familiar with the candidate.
Throughout his tenure as a federal judge, Colloton has authored 615 different majority opinions.