President Donald Trump on Monday nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, a choice that could create the most conservative court in generations and possibly change landmark rulings, including the Roe v. Wade abortion decision.
If confirmed by the Senate, Kavanaugh would fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote who sometimes sided with the court’s liberals in key cases. Trump wants to leave an enduring mark on the court, giving it a solid five-justice conservative majority for the foreseeable future.
“I do not ask about a nominee’s personal opinions,” Trump said Monday night. “What matters is not a judge’s political views but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and the Constitution require.”
Kavanaugh 53, is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit with a history in politics. Before he was nominated to the D.C. circuit by George W. Bush, he was the former president’s staff secretary and worked for Bush during the 2000 Florida vote recount. He also played a lead role in drafting Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s 1998 report on Bill Clinton. He is a Yale Law School graduate.
On the appeals court, he’s voted to strike down environmental regulations and said he would have overturned internet regulations issued while Barack Obama was president. He dissented from a ruling that let an undocumented immigrant teenager get an abortion while in federal custody.
Trump said that Kavanaugh has “impeccable credentials” and is “universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time.”
Kavanaugh, a former Kennedy clerk, said that he was “deeply honored” to replace the retiring justice.
“No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination," Kavanaugh said of Trump.
In addition to abortion, the court could shift to the right on the death penalty, racial discrimination, environmental law and gay rights, all areas where Kennedy at least sometimes joined the court’s liberal wing. Chief Justice John Roberts may now become the swing vote.
The White House wants Kavanaugh to be in place by Oct. 1, when the court’s next term formally opens, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will vote to confirm Kennedy’s successor in the fall. McConnell, who called Kavanaugh a “superb choice,” hasn’t explicitly said whether his goal is to complete a confirmation before the November midterm elections.
“This incredibly qualified nominee deserves a swift confirmation and robust bipartisan support,” Trump said.
Kennedy’s position in the court’s center guarantees a fierce confirmation fight. As soon as he announced his retirement plans in late June, Democrats and liberal groups mobilized, saying another Trump appointee would threaten Roe as well as the 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and scores of other decisions that have shaped modern America.
“President Trump has put reproductive rights and freedoms and health care protections for millions of Americans on the judicial chopping block,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement moments after Trump’s announcement. “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.”
Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, so they can approve Trump’s nominee without any Democratic support as long as they don’t lose more than one vote. In confirming Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Republicans eliminated the 60-vote requirement to advance a nomination to the high court.
If Republicans lose the Senate, they would still have control of the chamber until January.
Gorsuch’s nomination became possible because McConnell blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill a vacancy in 2016. McConnell had said the winner of the presidential election should make the choice.
Trump vowed during the campaign to appoint justices who would vote to overturn Roe, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, and his appointment to replace Kennedy could make that a reality. Recently, he said he wouldn’t ask any potential nominees about Roe during interviews.
Kennedy cast the pivotal vote to uphold Roe in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. The justices who remain on the court include three who have backed broad abortion restrictions and a fourth, Gorsuch, who in all likelihood would.
Senate confirmation of Kavanaugh could create the most conservative court since the justices blocked a number of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs in the 1930s. It could also create a lasting majority. Thomas, at 70, is the oldest of the court’s remaining Republican appointees.
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