President Donald Trump on June 29 said he plans to announce his nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on July 9, and that he has narrowed his list of candidates.
“I’ve got it down to about five,” including two women, Trump said.
He would not identify the candidates by name. “It’s a great group of intellectual talent. … They are generally conservative,” he said.
When asked about several specific potential nominees mentioned in recent days, including federal jurists Brett M. Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Trump said each was “outstanding.”
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route from Washington to his private golf club in New Jersey, Trump said he may interview two contenders for the nomination this weekend.
The president was in touch with White House counsel Don McGahn on June 30, according to principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah. McGahn played a key role during the selection process for a Supreme Court vacancy last year.
Trump has a list of 25 candidates for the position. The president has said that the conservative Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation helped him compile the list.
“Outside of war and peace, of course, the most important decision you make is the selection of a Supreme Court judge, if you get it,” Trump said. “As you know, there are many presidents who never get a choice.”
Trump told Fox News in an interview aired on July 1 that he was honored that Kennedy decided to retire during his term, allowing him to pick Kennedy’s successor. Before Kennedy’s retirement, Trump nominated several of Kennedy’s former clerks to the federal bench, including Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Judge Raymond Kethledge, who are likely on the shortlist.
The Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch, another Kennedy clerk and Trump nominee, for a Supreme Court seat last year.
While Kennedy was a conservative, he proved to be a somewhat unpredictable swing vote over his long career. For example, he sided with the court’s liberals by voting in favor of abortion rights and same-sex marriage in key cases. Views on abortion are expected to be one thing that senators will ask the new nominee about in confirmation hearings, even if the president does not.
Trump’s nominee must win confirmation by the Senate. Republicans control the chamber but only by a slim majority, making the views of moderates, including some Democrats, important.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on June 29 he hoped the confirmation process would be done “in time for the new justice to begin the fall term of the Supreme Court … the first Monday in October.”
White House aide Marc Short said on MSNBC that the White House hoped for a Senate confirmation vote in September.
That would put a new justice in place before the congressional midterm elections in November, when all seats in the House of Representatives and a third of those in the Senate will be contested.
Trump met on June 28 with senators from both parties at the White House to discuss the court vacancy created by Kennedy’s retirement, which was announced the day before.
Kennedy’s replacement could cast a deciding vote on limiting or ending the right to abortion.
“I do not apply ideological litmus tests to nominees, but I want to see integrity, intellect, a respect for precedent, and adherence to the rule of law,” said moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins when asked about Roe v. Wade.
Collins, who is pro-abortion, joined like-minded Republican Lisa Murkowski at the White House meeting. Also attending were Republican Charles Grassley and Democrats Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, and Heidi Heitkamp.
Kennedy announced his retirement after a Supreme Court session that yielded major victories for Trump and conservatives on issues including the travel ban, public sector unions, voting rights, and immigration.
The court upheld Trump’s executive order prohibiting travel from several high-risk countries. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the order fell “squarely within the scope of presidential authority.”
In another case, the justices ruled that workers who are not members of public-sector unions cannot be made to pay union dues that go toward collective bargaining. The ruling has the potential to have wide-ranging repercussions at a time when union membership is on the decline.
The court also upheld a method used by Ohio to purge its voter rolls. In another decision, the conservatives on the bench ruled that illegal aliens facing deportation are not required to have a bond hearing.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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