White House Forms Team to Oversee Supreme Court Nomination

July 3, 2018 Last Updated: July 3, 2018

The White House on July 2 named a special team of staffers who would handle the selection and confirmation process for President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The White House Counsel’s Office, headed by Don McGahn, will supervise the process. Raj Shah, the principal deputy press secretary, will take leave from his post to handle “communications, strategy and messaging coordination with Capitol Hill allies” full time, according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Justin Clark, the director of the Office of Public Liaison, will manage outreach to key groups and allies.

“Teams of attorneys from the White House Counsel’s Office and Department of Justice are working to ensure the president has all the information he needs to choose his nominee,” Sanders said. “The Department of Justice is fully engaged to support the nomination and confirmation efforts.”

Trump told reporters at the White House on July 2 that he interviewed four candidates.

“In the morning, I interviewed and met with four potential justices of our great Supreme Court,” the president said.

“They are outstanding people, they are really incredible people in so many different ways, academically and every other way, and I had a very, very interesting morning.”

Trump said he plans to meet with two or three more candidates this week before he announces his choice on July 9.

“I think the person that is chosen will be outstanding,” he said.

Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court on June 27. His exit paved the way for Trump to nominate a second justice to the nation’s top court. Since Kennedy is considered a swing vote on the court, Trump’s appointment will likely create a solid conservative majority for years.

Kennedy is a conservative but has at times sided with the liberals on the court in key decisions, including decisions on the death penalty, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Prior to his exit, the Republican appointees on the court delivered several key conservative rulings, including a decision to uphold Trump’s travel order.

The president has a list of 25 candidates, which he said he has narrowed down to five, including two women.

In 2017, Trump nominated Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed Gorsuch after a fierce battle. Republicans ended up resorting to a rule created by the Democrats in 2013, by Democratic Sen. Harry Reid. The Reid rule requires only a simple majority to confirm a judicial nominee without the threat of indefinite delay through a filibuster.

Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate and have enough time to confirm a candidate before the midterm elections in November, when a third of the seats in the Senate will be contested. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to vote on the nominee in October.

At least one Republican, Susan Collins, has said that she would not vote for a nominee who supports the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a ruling that struck down laws restricting abortions.

Trump said that he will not ask candidates about their stance on Roe v. Wade. Collins voted in favor of Gorsuch, a conservative, because he is a believer in relying on precedent and authored a book on the subject. Collins asserts that a judge who respects precedent would not overturn Roe vs. Wade.

In the case of a 50-50 vote on the nominee, Vice President Mike Pence could cast the tie-breaking vote.

Age Matters

Before Kennedy’s retirement, the four judges who were appointed by Democratic presidents had an average age of 71.5 years, almost five years more than the five judges appointed by Republicans.

Supreme Court justices are appointed for a lifetime term, making age a key factor in determining the court’s makeup in the years to come.

The average age of the candidates on Trump’s list of 25 justices is 52 years. Using that number for Trump’s appointment, the average age of Republicans could drop to 60.6 years, making the conservative side of the bench more than 10 years younger, on average, than the liberal side.

Kennedy was 80 when he announced his retirement. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—a Democratic appointee and the Supreme Court’s most fervent liberal—is 84.

Lower Courts

Trump has also been appointing young conservative judges to the lower courts at a rapid pace. Despite the Supreme Court’s prominence, thousands of consequential court decisions are made in the lower courts.

The president nominated 34 judges to the United States Court of Appeals, and the Senate has already confirmed 20. Trump also nominated 94 district court judges, with the Senate confirming 20 to date, and 15 judges in other key courts, of which the Senate has confirmed five.

President Barack Obama appointed hundreds of judges to the lower courts once the Senate adopted the Reid rule. The appointments flipped the makeup of the nation’s lower courts. Before Obama took office, only one of the 13 courts of appeals had a Democratic majority. By 2016, nine courts had a Democratic majority.