President Trump on Monday night has selected conservative federal appeals court Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh as his nominee for U.S. Supreme Court Justice to succeed retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a choice that will trigger a partisan confirmation battle as Trump moves to create the most conservative court for generations to come.
“What matters is not a judge’s personal views, but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and the Constitution require,” Trump said in the prime-time announcement from the East Room. “I am pleased to say I have found, without doubt, such a person.”
At a White House ceremony announcing the pick, Trump described Kavanaugh as a man of “impeccable credentials” and a “true thought leader among his peers.”
“It is my honor to announce that I will nominate that I will nominate Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court,” Trump said. “Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications, and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law.”
Kavanaugh became Trump’s second lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest judicial body in his 18 months in office, a rare presidential privilege.
“We are close to making a decision,” Trump said on Sunday. “Let’s just say it’s the four people. They’re excellent. Every one you can’t go wrong.”
The potential nominees were narrowed down from a list of 25 administration-approved judges, former judges and one member of Congress, selected by Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society and Trump’s top Supreme Court adviser. Trump narrowed the list to four finalists that included Judge Kavanaugh, Judges Thomas M. Hardiman of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, Raymond M. Kethledge of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Trump told Kavanaugh of his intention to nominate him Sunday night, a White House official said, adding that “what really tipped the scales was the consistency” the judge had shown on the appeals court.
Kavanaugh 53, served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ruling on some of the nation’s most high-profile cases on a court that is considered a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. He was nominated to the appeals court by President George W. Bush in 2006 and confirmed by a vote of 57-36. He also worked for independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose investigation led to the eventual impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Kavanaugh was also the lead author of the controversial Starr report, a point Democrats will bring up during the confirmation process.
“Throughout legal circles he’s considered a judge’s judge, a true thought leader among his peers,” Trump told an applauding audience in the White House East Room. “He’s a brilliant jurist with a clear and effective writing style, universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time. And just like Justice Gorsuch, he excelled as a legal clerk for Justice Kennedy.”
“Mr. President, I am grateful to you and I’m humbled by your confidence in me,” Kavanaugh said during the ceremony. “Throughout this process, I have witnessed first hand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary. No president has ever consulted more widely or talked with more people from more backgrounds to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination.”
The nominee said his judicial philosophy is “straightforward.”
“I will tell each senator that I revere the Constitution. I believe that an independent judiciary is the crown jewel of our Constitutional republic,” Kavanaugh said. “My judicial philosophy is straightforward: A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written. And a judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent.”
He added, “If confirmed by the Senate, I will keep an open mind in every case and will always try to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law.”
Judge Kavanaugh’s long history of legal opinions, as well as his role in some of the fiercest partisan battles of the last two decades, giving Democrats plenty of ammunition for tough questions. Among those hundreds of opinions is a recent dissent on a controversial abortion case. Kavanaugh criticized his fellow judges for ruling against the administration in allowing an undocumented minor to undergo an abortion, saying they had devised “a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. Government detention to obtain immediate an abortion on demand.”
Shortly after the announcement, Kavanaugh’s nomination were met with widespread opposition all from the Democratic party. Democrats who oppose Trump’s nominee will be focusing on two Republican moderates who support abortion rights, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, in hopes to turn them against Trump’s selection. Liberal groups, such as Demand Justice are planning to pressure the Senators to vote against the nominee by dropping multimillion-dollar ad campaigns in both Republican home states.
In a statement, Sen. Collins, said she would “conduct a careful, thorough vetting of the president’s nominee to the Supreme Court.”
Four Senate Democrats from red states turned down invites to attend the Monday night announcement — Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala.
Three Democrats up for re-election in states Trump won by double digits in 2016 — Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin all voted for Gorsuch last April and will be under pressure this time around to support Kavanaugh.
Most of those Democrats from deep-red states issued tepid statements saying they will review Kavanaugh’s record, without commenting on whether they will vote for or against his confirmation.
However, the majority of Democrats are lining up against Kavanugh. Democrats are still bitter from Republicans blocking President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland to fill the last Supreme Court vacancy, created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Republicans denied Judge Garland a hearing, arguing that the right to name a justice ought to be left to President Obama’s successor.
Before a judge was even named, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., announced that he would oppose the nomination since they were on a pre-approved list of the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.
“If an individual from the list provided to candidate Donald Trump by far-right organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society is nominated, then I am highly unlikely to support that nominee,” Casey said. “Justices who sit on the most important court in the world should not be selected by corporate interests and extreme right organizations.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared that he will oppose Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court saying “now is time to fight” the nominee.
“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,” Schumer said in a statement. “I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have, and I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same. The stakes are simply too high for anything less.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the Kavanaugh nomination “a clear and disrespectful assault on the fundamental rights of women and on the quality, affordable health care of the American people.”
Republicans, on the other hand, cheered the nomination of Kavanaugh.
Former President George W. Bush was among the first to respond to Kavanaugh’s nomination, calling Trump’s decision “outstanding” in selecting “a man of the highest integrity.”
“President Trump has made an outstanding decision in nominating Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” Bush said. “Brett is a brilliant jurist who has faithfully applied the Constitution and laws throughout his 12 years on the D.C. Circuit. He is a fine husband, father, and friend and a man of the highest integrity. He will make a superb justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky had favorable words for Kavanaugh, who will need the Republican Party leadership’s support heading into his bitter confirmation process.
“President Trump has made a superb choice,” McConnell said. “Judge Brett Kavanaugh is an impressive nominee who is extremely well qualified to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He is widely admired for his intellect, experience, and exemplary judicial temperament.”
“I look forward to meeting with Judge Kavanaugh and to the Senate’s fair consideration of his nomination, beginning with the work of Chairman Grassley and the Judiciary Committee,” McConnell continued. “This is an opportunity for Senators to put partisanship aside and consider his legal qualifications with the fairness, respect, and seriousness that a Supreme Court nomination ought to command.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in a statement said that the nomination of Kavanaugh “is an excellent choice” by Trump.
“Judge Kavanaugh will bring extensive experience to the Supreme Court; his long career exemplifies public service and, in particular, dedication to religious liberty,” Ryan said.
Despite Republicans hold a razor-thin margin in the Senate with Senator John McCain’s absent due to his brain cancer, reducing it to 50 seats, a handful of Democrats might vote for the nominee, particularly those running for re-election in states where Trump won in 2016. Democrats that are facing this dilemma are Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. All three voted to confirm Justice Gorsuch.
Kavanaugh will embark on a busy schedule this week consisting of courtesy calls to key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and other senators. The Judicial Crisis Network is planning a $1.4 million ad buy in Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia – states with moderate Democratic senators who could be pressured to vote for Trump’s nominee.
The average time between a Supreme Court justice’s nomination and confirmation is about 11 weeks. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, he could be on the court just in time for the opening of the next term, on the first Monday in October.
No date has been set for Kavanaugh confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.