President Donald Trump just announced his new pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court: Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Just days after Kennedy announced his impending retirement from the bench, Trump already had a short list of names, which included Kavanaugh. But the president spent weeks seeking input from his most trusted advisers, conservative legal scholars, and even his judge-sister before landing on Kavanaugh. To make his decision public Monday night, Trump filled the East Room of the White House with largely Republican senators.
"There is no one in American more qualified for this position — and no one more deserving," Trump said Monday night. "This nominee deserves a swift confirmation and robust bipartisan support."
The impending retirement of Justice Kennedy at the end of July gives Trump his second opportunity to fill a slot on the court. Senate Republicans famously refused to confirm President Obama’s replacement for the late Antonin Scalia until Trump took office, at which point he chose Neil Gorsuch for the role. In Gorsuch’s first term alone, he fulfilled conservatives’ wildest dreams, although he’s also shaping up to be an unlikely defender of the Fourth Amendment.
Even then, Trump had said he would only choose a conservative justice committed to overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide. Most recently, Kavanaugh ruled in favor of the Department of Health and Human Services in a case brought by an undocumented teenager attempting to seek an abortion in federal custody against the administration’s wishes.
"I do not ask about a nominee’s personal opinions,” Trump said during his announcement 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”
Mirroring Republicans’ block last time around, many Democratic senators, including Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, Chris Murphy, and Kirsten Gillibrand, said they’d support holding hearings for Kennedy’s replacement until after the midterm elections. But Democrats don’t have many options to block the nomination anyway: They’d need to convince every member of their party in the Senate and at least two Republicans to block the nomination.
So far, no Republicans have shown a strong interest in complying.
Replacing Justice Kennedy, known as the swing vote on the bench, with Judge Kavanaugh will undoubtedly solidify a more conservative majority on the court. Kennedy, 81, cast key votes for legalizing same-sex marriage, affirming Roe v. Wade as precedent, and shielding juveniles and disabled people from the death penalty.
If confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh would also push Justice Roberts — who’s considerably more conservative than Kennedy — into the pivotal role of swing justice. With Roberts in the middle of a new conservative majority, the social and fiscal issues Kennedy helped decide could end up back at the Supreme Court with a different outcome. The war over abortion, especially, could kick into overdrive.
"I believe that an independent judiciary is the crown jewel of our Constitutional republic," Kavanaugh said after Trump's announcement Monday night. "If confirmed by the Senate, I will keep an open mind in every case. And I will always strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law."
Cover image: Brett Kavanaugh testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be U. S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit. (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)