Betting House Stakes Two Supreme Court Favorites

Appeals court judges Bill Pryor, Diane Sykes would please most conservatives — lead PredictIt market

According to people who have real money on the line, the frontrunners for the Supreme Court are a federal appeals court judge from Alabama and a federal judge from Wisconsin.

Bill Pryor and Diane Sykes both appear on a list of potential Supreme Court nominees that President-Elect Donald Trump released during the primary campaign. Conservatives anxious about the ideological balance on the court since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia likely would be happy with either.

“I have no way of knowing whether the people who are betting are members of the Federalist Society or major Trump donors or members of the general public because they are inveterate gamblers.”

PredictIt, an online prediction market operated by New Zealand-based Victoria University of Wellington, mimics a traditional stock market by allowing people to wager up to $850 to buy “shares” of outcomes for various political events. Pryor, who sits on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, currently is trading at 23 cents as of midday Friday. Sykes, a federal appeals court judge in Chicago, is listed at 15 cents a share.

Trump mentioned both, by name, during a Republican primary debate in February. Both also have powerful supporters. Sykes’ shares Wisconsin ties with House Speaker Paul Ryan and incoming Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus. The state’s governor, former presidential candidate Scott Walker, touted her in 2013 as a potential justice.

Pryor, meanwhile, succeeded Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as Alabama attorney general and remains close to him. Sessions, of course, is Trump’s choice to be U.S. attorney general and is one of his most influential advisers.

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PredictIt claims betting markets, at least when it comes to elections, predict outcomes more accurately than traditional measures, like polls. In the case of the next Supreme Court justice, though, experts contend there is not way of knowing what Trump will do.

“My guess is the people who are talking don’t now and the people who do know aren’t talking,” said John Malcolm, director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation. “I have no way of knowing whether the people who are betting are members of the Federalist Society or major Trump donors or members of the general public because they are inveterate gamblers.”

Malcolm, who had input into Trump’s list, said it was an important factor in reassuring reluctant conservatives during the presidential campaign. Although Malcolm said there are a couple of names he would like to see added to the list, he added that it is a strong lineup and that the president-elect has given no reason to think he would deviate from it.

Pryor and Sykes are both plausible choices, Malcolm said. Here is a closer look at each candidate:

Bill Pryor (trading at 23 cents on PredictIt). Pryor, 54, grew up in Mobile — where Sessions lives and served as U.S. attorney under President Ronald Reagan. He earned a law degree from Tulane University. Pryor drew fierce opposition from liberal interest groups when President George W. Bush nominated him for the appeals court.

To break a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, Bush issued a “recess” appointment, allowing him to the join the court on a short-term basis. Democrats ultimately relented, and Pryor won confirmation to the lifetime position. But he would be sure to draw opposition again if Trump tapped him for the high court.

As attorney general, Pryor labeled as “the worst examples of judicial activism” the Roe v. Wade abortion decision and the Miranda ruling requiring that police read suspects their rights when arresting them. He also ended a 2000 speech to the Federalist Society by saying, “Please, God, no more Souters,” a reference to former Supreme Court Justice David Souter, whom President George H.W. Bush nominated but who turned out to disappoint conservatives.

On the appeals court, Pryor wrote an opinion upholding a voter identification law in Georgia and also voted to temporarily block enforcement of the Obama administration’s efforts to force a Catholic television network to participate in a scheme to provide birth control to employees. He wrote separately to explain why he though the network ultimately would win on the merits.

Malcolm said Pryor has done nothing on the bench to put him outside the mainstream of American jurisprudence, but he added that the judge’s past comments on abortion probably would make him the more controversial choice for Senate Democrats.

“They’re definitely going to put up a fight. They may try to mount s filibuster,” he said. “Whether they’d be successful is subject to some doubt.”

One potential awkward factor for Democrats: President Obama appointed him to serve on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Diane Sykes (trading at 15 cents on PredictIt). Sykes, 59, has been on the Chicago-based Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 2004 and served for five years on the Wisconsin Supreme Court before that.

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She was part of a 3-0 decision upholding Wisconsin’s voter ID law in 2014. She also wrote a broad defense of religious freedom in holding that employers cannot be compelled to let their insurance plans be used to provide birth control to employees.

Sykes upset liberals with a 2006 decision reversing a lower court’s refusal to block Southern Illinois University School of Law from revoking the Christian Legal Society’s official student organization status because it did not allow gay members.

“Subsidized student organizations at public universities are engaged in private speech, not spreading state-endorsed messages,” Sykes wrote.

Other contenders vying for third place in the PredictIt market include Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who ran against Trump and has been the Senate’s foremost advocate for a conservative judiciary; Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals; Steve Colloton, a federal judge who has spent over a decade on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and Thomas Lee, a Utah Supreme Court justice and brother of Sen. Mike Lee. Lee ranked first in an academic study last month assessing potential justices who most resemble Scalia on factors like judicial philosophy, writing style and how frequently other judges cite them.

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