WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will announce his second nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday night, a decision that will likely ensure a long-standing conservative tilt to the nation’s highest bench.
Trump told reporters on Sunday afternoon he had yet to decide among four prospective candidates after a weekend at his Bedminster, New Jersey, estate weighing his options. The president has not named his short list of contenders, but according to multiple media reports citing sources close to Trump, he is considering four federal court judges — Brett Kavanaugh, Thomas Hardiman, Raymond Kethledge and Amy Coney Barrett.
“We’re very close to making a decision. . . . It's well, let's just say it's the four people,” Trump told reporters before heading back to the White House. “But they’re excellent. Every one. You can’t go wrong. . . . I’ll probably be deciding tonight or tomorrow, sometime by 12 o’clock.”
Trump is scheduled to name his pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy at a 9 p.m. ceremony at the White House. The fast-moving effort to replace Kennedy, a conservative who provided key swing votes to the liberal side of the bench, comes days after the president interviewed eight prospective nominees. Those nominees were selected from a list compiled during the 2016 presidential campaign by the conservative legal group the Federalist Society.
Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, who has been advising Trump on the nominees, appeared to confirm the four names that have been floated in media reports during a Sunday morning interview on ABC’s “This Week,” saying he assumed the four that have been mentioned were the leading contenders. He gave a slight edge to Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington, and Barrett, an appellate court judge from the Midwest and the only woman on the list.
“Certainly, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett have a lot of name recognition among supporters of the president, and I think that ultimately when people like them are nominated, you'll see a lot of folks line up,” he said, adding that Trump “ran on the Supreme Court issue and that greatly enthused voters. So, it is important to have people who are extremely well known and have distinguished records.”
Despite Leo’s endorsement, Trump was reportedly advised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that Kavanaugh, 53, and Barrett, 46, would face a harder time getting confirmed than Hardiman and Kethledge, according to a report in The New York Times.
McConnell has reportedly expressed concerns that Kavanaugh’s work as a former staff secretary to President George W. Bush, his role assisting independent counsel Kenneth Starr during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings, and his more than a decade on the bench would leave him vulnerable to a prolonged confirmation process, with Democrats looking to review his lengthy paper trail of service, page by page.
While Trump has told close advisers that he would like to appoint a conservative woman to the bench, McConnell, according to The New York Times, indicated he had reservations about Barrett’s nomination. He noted that her past law review articles and speeches on religion and Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, would make her the target of abortion rights groups, which have started to wage public campaigns against Trump’s nominees.
Moderate Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, whose votes are critical to securing a confirmation, have said they will not support any nominee who would upend Roe v. Wade. Republicans have only a one-vote edge over Democrats, who largely oppose Trump’s list of contenders.
Trump reportedly continues to show interest in Hardiman, who was the runner-up to last year’s successful Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, according to a report in The New York Times on Sunday. Hardiman, 53, was recommended by Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who served with Hardiman on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. The president reportedly finds Hardiman’s background compelling — he drove a taxi to help pay for his tuition at Georgetown University’s law school, according to the Times.
Kethledge, 51 an appellate court judge in Michigan and self-described introvert according to media reports, was found to be “likable but comparatively dull” by Trump, according to what those close to selection process told The New York Times on Sunday.
In April 2017,l, the Senate voted 54-45 to confirm Trump's first nominee, Gorsuch, after a contentious yearlong battleto replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.