WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, describing the federal court judge as a “judge’s judge” and “one of the sharpest and finest legal minds” during a prime-time address.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kavanaugh will replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who provided key swing votes for the court’s liberal side.
By selecting Kavanaugh from a list of nominees compiled by conservative policy groups, Trump all but ensured his latest Supreme Court appointment will lock in a 5-4 conservative majority on the bench.
“There is no one in America more qualified and no one more deserving,” Trump said in the White House East Room, where he was joined by Kavanaugh and the judge’s wife Ashley and daughters Margaret and Liza.
Kavanaugh, 53, a former staff secretary for President George W. Bush, beat out eight other prospective nominees interviewed by Trump at the White House last week.
The president whittled down his choices to four appellate court judges — Kavanaugh, Thomas Hardiman, Raymond Kethledge and Amy Coney Barrett. Trump mulled his options over the weekend, telling reporters he would make his decision by a self-imposed noon deadline.
Speaking to an audience that included Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, first lady Melania Trump and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, said he revered the Constitution, and that "a judge must interpret the Constitution as written.”
Kavanaugh said, “if confirmed by the Senate I will keep an open mind in every case, and I will always strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law.”
Key Democrats raised objections immediately.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pledged to fight the nomination and called on “Americans from all walks of life to make their voices heard from now until the end of this battle."
Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the, "Senate has come together on a bipartisan basis to protect women’s reproductive rights and to protect health care for millions of Americans before — including those with pre-existing conditions. We need to do it again.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat whom Republicans hope to persuade to vote yes, said he’d pay particular attention to Kavanaugh’s record on health care. The Supreme Court "will ultimately decide if nearly 800,000 West Virginians with pre-existing conditions will lose their health care,” Manchin said.
A graduate of Yale Law School, Kavanaugh spent three years as Bush’s staff secretary and also assisted independent counsel Ken Starr during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings.
Kavanaugh was appointed by Bush to the D.C. Court of Appeals in 2003, but his confirmation was stalled for three years until he was confirmed in May 2006.
On Monday, Trump hailed Kavanaugh’s work as a law-school professor at Yale, Harvard and Georgetown University. The president noted Kavanaugh's volunteer work, including coaching a youth basketball league and serving food to the needy through the nonprofit Catholic Charities.
Trump said Kavanaugh had a “proven commitment to equal justice under the law.”
Several Republican conservatives praised Kavanaugh’s nomination. However, McConnell had raised concerns with Trump last week that Kavanaugh's time at the White House and more than decade on the bench would leave him vulnerable to a prolonged confirmation process, according to The New York Times.
McConnell reportedly was concerned that Democrats would seek to delay the confirmation by reviewing his lengthy paper trail of service page by page.
Trump called on lawmakers to move ahead with a “swift” confirmation process, although Democrats and liberal groups have promised to wage a fight on Capitol Hill.
“This incredibly qualified nominee deserves a swift confirmation,” Trump said Monday.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Kavanaugh will be guided through the confirmation process by former Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, who served in the Senate from 1995 to 2013. Kyl, who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee during confirmations of four of the past five justice, will serve as a liaison between the nominee and lawmakers.
Republicans, who have only a one-vote edge over Senate Democrats, have been looking to avoid a protracted battle over Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee.
Last January, Trump named Neil Gorsuch to the bench to replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch was confirmed April 2017 by a 54-45 vote.
Democrats have called for the confirmation hearings to be held after November’s midterm elections. They noted that Republicans blocked a confirmation hearing for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland after citing the nomination’s proximity to the 2016 presidential election
Schumer and outside liberal groups are pegging their hopes on flipping Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), two moderate Republicans who have said they will not support any nominee who would be willing to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortions.
McConnell, in Senate floor remarks, called on the chamber to “evaluate this President's nominee fairly based on his or her qualifications, and we should treat the process with the respect and dignity that it deserves.”
In a statement after Kavanaugh’s nomination was announced, McConnell said “Judge Kavanaugh has won the respect of his peers in the legal community and demonstrates a firm understanding of the role of a judge in our republic. I look forward to meeting with him and to the Senate’s thorough consideration of his nomination.”
Reaction of Long Island's congressional delegation to President Donald Trump's selection of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court:
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.): “In selecting Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, President Trump has put reproductive rights and freedoms and health care protections for millions of Americans on the judicial chopping block. His own writings make clear that he would rule against reproductive rights and freedoms, and that he would welcome challenges to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.): "If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed, he would tip the balance of the Supreme Court even more against workers’ rights, civil rights, and women’s rights for decades to come. I do not think he is the right choice for our country, and I am going to vote against him and urge my colleagues to do the same."
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley): " I strongly believe that regardless of whether a judicial court nominee is chosen by a Republican president or a Democrat president, or whether the nominee is conservative, moderate, or liberal in his or her beliefs, it is most important that the individual would not be an activist on the bench or allow their personal beliefs to overcome the required objectivity to strictly interpret the law and our Constitution.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford): "It's an excellent choice. He is an experienced jurist, strict Constitutionalist and hopefully the Senate does its job and expedites his confirmation process. I give the president credit for picking an outstanding candidate."
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove): “Our system of government only works when all three branches each perform their constitutional function. Judge Brett Kavanaugh has a detailed history that must be reviewed carefully. The Senate must ensure that he will fairly and responsibly base and apply his decisions on the rule of law, not on personal or political beliefs.”
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City): "It is absolutely critical that the president’s nominee respect the legal precedent set by previous Supreme Court rulings, including on issues of abortion rights, marriage equality and access to health care. I'm hopeful that the Senate will hold Judge Kavanaugh to those standards and openly address the pressing questions and concerns that many Americans have voiced about our next Supreme Court justice.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Elmont): “From the beginning, the SCOTUS vacancy has been reserved for an ideology in search of a candidate, and the far-right has found their candidate in Brett Kavanaugh. Having drawn from the Heritage Foundation’s short-list of potential nominees, Trump’s choice was guaranteed to threaten Roe v Wade and women’s rights, the Affordable Care Act, Brown v Board, LGBT rights, and countless other civil liberties. ”