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Michigan’s ‘Justice Joan’ Larsen emerges as finalist for Supreme Court

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — One of the women on Donald Trump’s short list to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court got her first taste of politics as a college student stuffing envelopes for Democrat Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential run.

But, by 1996, Joan L. Larsen was volunteering for Republican Bob Dole, and today few doubt her conservative credentials, which includes a longtime affiliation with the Federalist Society.

Larsen is among a small group of female lawyers whom Trump is considering to replace Ginsburg, the liberal icon whose death last week gave conservatives a chance to move the court further to the right. White House officials say Trump was referring to Larsen when he said Monday his finalists included “a great one from Michigan.” On Tuesday, he called her “very talented” in an interview with a local television station.

In just five years, Joan L. Larsen has gone from a little-known University of Michigan legal scholar to a prominent federal appeals court judge and now a candidate for the high court.

Conservative activists hope that, if nominated and confirmed by the Senate, Larsen would carry on the legacy of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked in the early 1990s and eulogized after his 2016 death.

For Trump, picking Larsen could give him a boost in the critical battleground state of Michigan, where she has raised her two children, advanced her career and won election to the state Supreme Court.

Liberals fear that she would follow in Scalia’s footsteps by voting to overrule decisions that legalized abortion rights and gay marriage and other rulings that Scalia and his followers vociferously oppose.

At 52, Larsen would be a candidate who could serve on the high court for three decades or longer. Her father, Leonard Larsen, the retired CEO of a Lutheran social services agency, died in April at age 91. Her mother is 89.

Larsen’s rise began when Michigan’s then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointed her to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court in September 2015, praising her as a “superb attorney” who had experience in government, academia and private practice.

“When she called to tell me, I was shocked. I had no idea that she was thinking such a thing,” said Sarah Zearfoss, a longtime colleague at the Michigan law school who has marveled at her friend’s ascent.

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