WASHINGTON (AP) — After days of frenzied lobbying and speculation, President Donald Trump decided on his second nominee to the Supreme Court on Monday, setting up a ferocious confirmation battle with Democrats as he seeks to shift the nation’s highest court further to the right.
With customary fanfare, Trump unveiled his choice to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy with Judge Brett Kavanaugh, aiming for conservative shift.
President Trump Announces the Nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court https://t.co/rVMTOMpurr
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) July 10, 2018
His final options were all young federal judges who could help remake the court for decades to come with precedent-shattering rulings on issues such as abortion, guns and health care.
Top contenders also included federal appeals judges, Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said late Monday that he had spoken with Trump and did not think Barrett was the choice.
“I don’t think she’s going to be the one who’s chosen this time. But I assume she will be next time,” he said.
Ahead of his announcement, Trump tweeted about the stakes: “I have long heard that the most important decision a U.S. President can make is the selection of a Supreme Court Justice – Will be announced tonight at 9:00 P.M.”
The Senate confirmation battle is expected to dominate the months leading up to November’s midterm elections. Senate Republicans hold only a 51-49 majority, leaving them hardly any margin if Democrats hold the line. Democratic senators running for re-election in states Trump carried in 2016 will face pressure to back his nominee.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said he was bracing for a tough confirmation battle as Democrats focus on abortion. Kennedy, a member of the Judiciary Committee, which will get the first chance to question the nominee, predicted a “rough, tough, down in the dirt, ear-pulling, nose-biting fight.”
Trump’s success in confirming conservative judges, as well as a Supreme Court justice, has cheered Republicans amid concerns about his limited policy achievements and chaotic management style. Of the court’s liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Stephen Breyer turns 80 next month, so Trump may well get another opportunity to cement conservative dominance of the court for years to come.
Trump is hoping to replicate his successful nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year. The president has spent the days leading up to his announcement discussing the pros and cons of various contenders with aides and allies. In recent days, he expressed renewed interest in Hardiman, the runner-up when Trump nominated Gorsuch, said two people with knowledge of his thinking. He was also said to be strongly interested in Kavanaugh.
The White House invited a number of senators to attend the Monday night announcement, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and committee member Kennedy.
Democrats who were invited but declined included Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Diane Feinstein of California. Feinstein is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. The others are Republican targets for the confirmation vote who come from Trump-won states where they face re-election this fall.
Some conservatives have expressed concerns about Kavanaugh — a longtime judge and a former clerk for Kennedy — questioning his commitment to social issues like abortion and noting his time serving under President George W. Bush as evidence he is a more establishment choice. But his supporters cite his experience and wide range of legal opinions.
Barrett — a longtime Notre Dame Law School professor who became a federal appeals judge last fall — excited social conservatives with her testimony when questioned about her Roman Catholic faith in her nomination hearings last year. But her brief time on the bench has raised questions about her experience.