by Thomas Valentine
President Trump is set to announce his nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy on Monday evening, and speculation is reaching a fever pitch.
Trump said earlier this week that he was down to four picks for the Court — and then mentioned he was really deciding between two.
Most media reports seem to agree that the likely finalists are Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals; and Judge Raymond Kethledge, who serves on the Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kavanaugh has been a favorite of some D.C. insiders, including some of Trump’s top advisors. He first rose to prominence working in Ken Starr’s special counsel investigation of Bill Clinton, and the D.C. Circuit Court is considered the second most powerful court behind the Supreme Court. But some conservatives are wary of him for his insider ties and for a slightly spotty record on certain important issues. He joined dissents against Obamacare and allowing illegal immigrant teenagers to receive taxpayer-funded abortions while in federal custody, but his reasons were slightly different than the mainstream constitutionalist view. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has also quietly been lobbying against him for his ties to the Bush administration’s terrorism policies.
Barrett has been an early and constant favorite among many conservatives. She took on bigoted Democrat senators who interrogated her on her Catholic faith during her confirmation hearing last year. That impressed the White House, and Trump is said to be intrigued at the prospect of appointing a woman. She clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia and has been a distinguished law professor. But Barrett has been a judge for less than a year and Trump and his advisors may decide it’s not her time.
Kethledge has emerged as a dark horse candidate after a meeting with Trump that is said to have impressed the President greatly. As a Midwesterner he would bring some diversity to the coastal-dominated court (as would Barrett), and some of his colleagues and associates have said that he is a committed originalist and textualist in the mold of Scalia. He could become a consensus pick. But he is relatively unknown in conservative circles and may not gain the same enthusiastic support from the base as others.
There are a few more prospects further back in the pack. Senator Mike Lee has said publicly and privately that he would accept the nomination if offered, and Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have urged Trump to pick him, saying he would be a no-surprises justice unlike some other past Republican nominees. Sixth Circuit Judge Amul Thapar is a favorite of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but he is said to be out of the running at this point. There’s also Judge Thomas Hardiman of the Pittsburgh-based Third Circuit Court of Appeals, who is believed to have been the runner-up to Neil Gorsuch last year. He has a compelling personal story — he worked in his father’s taxi business to pay his way through college — but does not seem to be one of the favorites this time around.
So it appears to be down to three, maybe four — though Trump relishes the reality-show style of this process and may decide to change it up at the last minute. With just a couple days to go, speculation will continue to run rampant until Monday night.
Photo credit: Matt Wade via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0