By Alexander Bolton - 01-12-17 06:00 AM EST
Influential conservatives are pressing President-elect Donald Trump to nominate Bill Pryor, a judge feared and disdained by liberals but loved by conservatives because of his "titanium spine," to the Supreme Court.
Pryor is said to be on Trump's short list to replace the legendary conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died almost a year ago.
Trump told reporters Wednesday that he will announce his nominee within two weeks of taking the oath of office on Jan. 20.
Conservatives want an intellectual heavyweight to fill Scalia's shoes and fulfill Trump's promise made during last year's campaign to nominate a justice "in the mold of Scalia."
"The person who would mostly likely be my top pick would be Bill Pryor," said John Malcolm, director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, who has had several conversations with Trump's transition team.
He described Pryor as an outstanding public servant who "calls it like he sees it" and won't bend to public pressure.
"He has a titanium spine," he added.
Pryor, however, would spark strong resistance from Democrats, who repeatedly filibustered his nomination to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals a decade ago. The impasse was broken only after then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) threatened to change the rules to strip the minority of the power to filibuster judicial nominees.
Newly elected Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, at the time called Pyor a reactionary.
"Attorney General Pryor has been one of the staunchest advocates of the Rehnquist Court's efforts to roll back the clock not just to the 1930s but to the 1880s," he said in a statement more than 10 years ago.
He will come under attack from the left for criticizing in 2000 two landmark rulings that established criminal defense and abortion rights, Miranda v. Arizona and Roe v. Wade, respectively, as "two awful rulings that preserved the worst examples of judicial activism."
Pryor showed his spine more than a decade ago when as Alabama's attorney general he prosecuted the state's chief justice, Roy Moore, for placing a two-ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama state Supreme Court building.
It was a politically risky move in a rock-ribbed Christian state that supporters say demonstrated his willingness to put the law above personal beliefs.
Conservatives wary of GOP-nominated Supreme Court justices who have drifted leftward, including retired Justice David Souter and current Justice Anthony Kennedy, want Trump to tap a staunch and trusty constitutionalist.
"They want to get a judge who is going to follow the Constitution according to its text, structure and original public meaning," said Malcolm, who prepared a list of judicial recommendations for Trump on behalf of the Heritage Foundation.
"They want somebody who will have the courage of their convictions and not be swayed by the editorial board of The New York Times or what the cocktail circuit in Georgetown has to say," he added.
Malcolm and Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society, are among the two most influential outside voices advising the Trump transition team on whom to pick for the court.
Leo told "Fox News Sunday" earlier this month that Trump will likely select a judge inclined toward originalist interpretations of the Constitution.
"The president made very clear throughout the campaign that he was looking for justices who were going to interpret the Constitution as the framers meant it to be," he said.
He praised what he called Pryor's "very distinguished record of public service."
Malcolm told The Hill Wednesday that Leo has traveled regularly to New York to counsel the transition team and has had more influence on its deliberations.
Conservative activists warn that if Trump disappoints them with his choice, he could face a backlash from the right.
"Trump has set an expectation of a Scalia-like conservative. If he does anything less, he's going to have a problem," said one activist who works regularly with other conservative groups.
Leading conservative advocates see Pryor as a fitting replacement because of his similarities to the late justice. Like Scalia, Pryor is a devout Catholic with a strikingly originalist approach to constitutional interpretation.
Pryor spoke at the Heritage Foundation's discussion on the "Originalism Revolution" in October and cites Alexander Hamilton, a co-author of the Federalist Papers, as an intellectual inspiration.
"Because this is the seat vacated by the death of Justice Scalia, I think someone like Bill Pryor would be an excellent nominee to the Supreme Court and would make an excellent Supreme Court Justice," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice and a veteran of judicial confirmation battles.
Seklow said he has "made it very clear" to friends and colleagues who are in contact with Trump's transition team "whom I think would be great nominees."
Trump reassured during the campaign by releasing a list of 21 conservative candidates he said he would seriously consider adding to the Supreme Court.
The list included other highly recorded conservative jurists such as 7th Circuit Judge Diane Sykes, 3rd Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman, conservative Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R) and his brother, Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee.
Don McGahn, Trump's campaign lawyer and his pick to serve as White House counsel, took the lead in assembling the list after getting input from the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, according to advocate who was familiar with the process.