President Trump has set July 9 as the day he’ll announce his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. The speculation is focused on a list of conservative ideologues created by the right-wing Federalist Society, the same list from which Trump chose Neil Gorsuch.
However, there is one name not on this list that could make for a provocative and in many ways confounding choice: Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel.
Considering Thiel wouldn’t come from out of the blue. During Trump’s presidential campaign, there was speculation that Thiel was interested in a seat on the Court.
For a long list of reasons, Thiel would be a terrible choice for the Court. He holds some genuinely weird beliefs, including a disdain for our democratic system, which is already under stress from this White House, and he has even questioned the consequences of allowing women the vote. There’s also little reason to think that Thiel would easily trade his money-making activities and high-flying lifestyle for a regular day job.
But then again, any of Trump’s choices is guaranteed to be awful. And as a Supreme Court justice, Thiel would have the kind of power to reshape the nation more to his liking that he would never have a mere billionaire. That’s a mighty temptation. And frankly, he would be far more likely to be an ideological maverick than anyone on the Federalist Society list, which is dominated by conservatives.
Here are 9 reasons why Thiel would be a good choice (from Trump’s perspective, if not ours) as Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
1. He’s qualified.
Nowadays Thiel is just classified as a Silicon Valley tycoon. But he has impressive legal credentials. Thiel graduated from Stanford Law School and interned at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Thiel’s law experience may be a bit dusty, but his background is actually solid. And he’s nobody’s dummy.
2. Thiel would make history.
Thiel would be the first openly gay Supreme Court justice. Trump loves to make history; appointing Thiel would be as much about Trump as the nominee.
3. He could be on the court for decades–or possibly forever.
Trump is looking for someone who will be shaping policy for generations. Thiel is 50, so he has decades of service ahead of him. 4. Trump would be repaying a debt.
The president views everything transactionally, and Thiel stood by him during the lowest points of his presidential campaign, giving a speech at the Republican National Convention and donating more than a million big ones to his campaign. A Supreme Court nomination would be an ample reward for Thiel’s loyalty.
5. He shares Trump’s hatred of the media.
What could be more satisfying for Trump than to appoint someone who actually drove a major media company out of existence? Thiel’s campaign against Gawker is the kind of thing that Trump would envy.
6. The Court would pick up a strong business perspective.
Thiel would certainly bring the viewpoint of business to the high court, a credential almost every justice lacks. Not only that, he would bring a Silicon Valley point of view, which has been distinctly lacking in D.C. in general and might loosen Democrats dominance of that massive campaign cash.
7. It would jam Democrats.
The list of reasons to oppose a Thiel nomination would be long. However, Republicans would gleefully bash Democrats for opposing a gay man on the bench. That would be the height of hypocrisy, given the whispering campaign against Elena Kagan, but then again Republicans aren’t renowned for their honesty.
8. He would be hard to categorize.
Unlike the Federalist Society list of nominees, Thiel is a libertarian, so his beliefs don’t fit neatly into conservative orthodoxy. He’s said in the past that he doesn’t have a problem with big government, as long as it’s effective. He doesn’t really have a record on abortion rights, the main battleground for the nominee, which could be a blessing during the confirmation process. (We suspects he’s pro-choice.)
9. He’d make overturning marriage equality almost impossible.
As on many issues, Trump has spoken out of both sides of his mouth on marriage equality, depending on the audience. But of all the bigotry he’s displayed in his dreadful public life, he’s not gone out of his way to bash gays–he leaves that to his Veep. Overturning marriage equality would play well to his base, but would be a disaster among young voters and independents. Even Republicans overall support equality. The fact that Thiel married his male partner last year would likely make more conservative justices think twice about overturning this well-established precedent, and it would live up to Trump’s reported promise to Anthony Kennedy that he would not over appoint someone who would destroy his pro-gay legacy.
Of course, the reasons not to choose Thiel for the Court are just as long, if not longer. The fact that he doesn’t adhere to a strict conservative orthodoxy is just one reason. Republicans still rue the day they ever approved David Souter to the Court.
For another, the religious right–the core of Trump’s support–would have a collective breakdown. Even though Thiel might well be less sympathetic to LGBTQ legal rights than Kennedy, the fact that he’s gay would be a deal killer. The religious right wants another Gorsuch, not another Richard Grenell. (Which should be a clue to Thiel that he’s in the wrong party.) On the other hand, Trump is the ultimate Teflon president with his base, and he’d be quickly forgiven, one suspects.
None of this is to say that Thiel is a good pick for the Court. If Trump wanted to make history with a gay nominee, there are dozens of others out there who respect the rights of minorities and have much longer experience in the judiciary. Todd M. Hughes is just one example. Catapulting a billionaire donor who has never really practiced law above them would be insulting. And as smart as he is, Thiel holds some corrosive views about our system, having once declared that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”
That’s a dangerous belief for a Supreme Court justice to hold.