These are the rumored front-runners for Justice Kennedy’s Supreme Court seat

Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, and the race is on to nominate a replacement before the midterm elections.

by Taylor Dolven
Jun 27 2018, 10:19pm

President Trump will have a second opportunity to choose a Supreme Court justice in the wake of Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement announcement Wednesday. Among the front-runners for his nomination are a man who helped investigate Bill Clinton, a former clerk of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and a vocal critic of Roe v. Wade who was recently promoted by Trump.

“We will begin our search for a new justice of the United States Supreme Court,” Trump said Wednesday, confirming the nominee will be one of the 25 names on his published list. “We have a very excellent list of great, talented, highly educated, highly intelligent — hopefully, tremendous — people. I think the list is very outstanding.”

His front-runners likely include two of Kennedy’s former clerks and two federal judges Trump recently promoted. All are staunch conservatives in contrast to Kennedy’s moderate stance. And with Kennedy’s swing position vacated, Trump’s chosen justice will reshape the bench and likely steer the high court to the right for decades to come.

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Brett Kavanaugh, 53, a former Kennedy clerk, is a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and a favorite of the GOP establishment. Kavanaugh is perhaps best-known for working with Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor appointed to investigate President Bill Clinton, before moving to the office in charge of vetting judicial nominees under President George W. Bush. He’s also known for striking down EPA rules to limit air pollution and finding the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau unconstitutional during his time on the D.C. Circuit bench.

Raymond Kethledge, 51, has been a champion of corporate interests on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2013, the Bush nominee authored a decision upholding a Wisconsin law that barred unions from collecting dues by paycheck deduction after a lower court found it violated the First Amendment. Before that, he also clerked for Justice Kennedy and worked at private law firms and companies in Michigan.

Joan Larsen, 49, on the other hand, was nominated by President Trump to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in May of last year after serving on the Michigan Supreme Court under Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. During her earlier career she clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, worked at the Justice Department under President Bush, and taught law at the University of Michigan. She has long promoted an originalist interpretation of the constitution, in line with hard-line conservatives, according to the liberal judicial group Alliance For Justice.

Read: Republicans handed Trump more than 100 federal judicial vacancies to fill

And Amy Barrett, 46, was nominated by President Trump to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals last May after more than two decades of teaching at Notre Dame Law School. She has criticized the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraception coverage on insurance plans, according to Alliance for Justice.

Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor took around four months to get confirmed in 2010 and 2009, respectively, from the time the previous justices retired. If that timetable holds true for this nominee, we could see a confirmation right before the November midterm elections.

"We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy's successor this fall," McConnell said immediately after Kennedy’s retirement announcement Wednesday.

But Senate Democrats are still bitter about McConnell’s unprecedented decision not to give Obama’s third and final Supreme Court nominee a hearing after Scalia’s death in February 2016, citing concerns about the proximity of the 2016 election.

Trump inherited a record number of federal judicial vacancies, after Republican senators repeatedly blocked nominees under President Barack Obama, including his nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Ninety percent of the judges Trump has nominated to the lower courts who have been confirmed are White and more than three-fourths of them are men.

Allison McCann contributed reporting.

Cover image: Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a formal group photograph in the East Conference Room of the Supreme Court, seated left to right, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, and standing left to right, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr., Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images