President Donald Trump is expected later this week to announce his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the late Justice Antonin Scalia with a like-minded conservative.
He has narrowed his short list to federal appeals court judges Neil Gorsuch of Denver and Thomas Hardiman of Pittsburgh — candidates who were culled from 21 potential picks whose names Trump released during his campaign, according to several news reports.
Trump will formally announce his choice on Thursday, he said in a tweet. ABC News reported Sunday that the pick could be made public as soon as Monday or Tuesday.
“We have outstanding candidates,” the president had said last week in the Oval Office as he signed executive orders. “And we’ll pick a truly great Supreme Court justice.”
But after Republican lawmakers’ refusal to grant a hearing last year to former President Barack Obama’s appointee, Judge Merrick Garland, Democrats are readying for a confirmation fight and may try to block Trump’s choice.
“If the nominee is not bipartisan and mainstream, we absolutely will keep the seat open,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Gorsuch, 49, and Hardiman, 51, are both appointees of former President George W. Bush.
Gorsuch may be best known for accommodating religious objections against contraceptives in legal battles over Obamacare.
Hardiman has taken an originalist approach in court cases involving the Second Amendment right to bear arms, legal experts said.
A third finalist, Judge William Pryor, 54, of the federal appeals court in Atlanta, is running at the back of the pack, some news outlets reported.
Pryor, a protege of Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, in 2003 called the landmark Roe v. Wade decision affirming abortion rights the “worst abomination of constitutional law.”
Experts predicted that while Pryor would meet the greatest resistance of the three candidates, Senate Democrats would push against any of the judges being floated.
“They’re mad as hornets that they lost the election and they’re mad as hornets that they didn’t get a hearing for Merrick Garland,” said John Malcolm, director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. “They’re going to put up a fight no matter who the president nominates.”
With the Supreme Court divided 4-4 down ideological lines, Trump and his team are aiming to restore the court’s conservative tilt.
Daniel Goldberg, legal director at the progressive Alliance for Justice, said Trump wants to install “radical reactionaries” on the Supreme Court.
“Looking at their records, many of them are worse than Scalia,” Goldberg said of the finalists.
For instance, Goldberg noted that Gorsuch made the case for the “nondelegation doctrine” that Goldberg said constrains the ability of federal agencies to carry out their statutory missions.
“He’s espousing doctrines that Justice Scalia had rejected,” Goldberg said.
Proponents of the doctrine say it safeguards individual liberties and ensures that elected officials make major policy decisions, not unelected administrators.
Gorsuch, a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, practices “originalism,” or the interpretation of the Constitution as the Founding Fathers intended in their time, and “textualism” — literal reading of statutes.
Hardiman, who if nominated and confirmed would be the only current Supreme Court justice not to attend an Ivy League school, graduated from Notre Dame University and Georgetown University Law School. He was the first in his family to go to college and drove a taxicab to support himself.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told “Fox News Sunday” last week that he believes Democrats should not filibuster Trump’s choice, and predicted Trump will succeed.
“I’m confident we’ll get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed,” he said.