Trump Nominates Brett Kavanaugh to Supreme Court

trump nominates kavanaugh

This post was originally published on Financial Times.

Donald Trump has nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in a decision that could cement a conservative majority on America’s highest court for a generation.

The announcement at a live televised White House event follows 12 days of speculation after Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing voter on the court, said he would retire.

Republicans and Democrats have geared up for a battle over Mr Trump’s choice as both parties try to use the Senate confirmation process to rally voters ahead of the midterm elections in November.

Mr Kavanaugh, 53, an appeals court judge on the influential Washington DC circuit, had been viewed as the frontrunner and is likely to have a bruising confirmation process ahead of him, with Democrats poring over his record as a judge, and his roles in the George W Bush administration and Kenneth Starr’s investigation into Bill Clinton.

Democratic lawmakers, a minority in the Senate, lack the levers to block the appointment, which would tilt the Supreme Court further to the right and potentially secure a decades-long conservative majority. However, they have seized on the confirmation process as an opportunity to energise voters as they seek to retake Congress in November.

Abortion rights will be at the core of the battle in the coming weeks. Progressive groups have warned that the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 abortion decision, Roe v Wade, is now at risk, citing Mr Trump’s pledge during the 2016 presidential campaign to appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn the ruling. The White House has insisted that none of the candidates interviewed for the position was asked about their views on abortion.

The nominee will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks for hearings, where they are likely to be grilled about their views on precedent and issues like whether a sitting president can be subpoenaed in a criminal investigation or indicted.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, has pledged to have the nominee in place for the Supreme Court’s session beginning in October, ahead of midterm elections the following month. He has a narrow margin for error as a defection by just one Republican could mean a loss if John McCain, the ailing Arizona Republican, is unable to vote, and Democratic lawmakers remain united in opposition.

Eyes will be on two moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have said they will not back a judge with a record of hostility to abortion rights, and a trio of Democrats who are facing re-election in states that Mr Trump won in 2016.

The nomination on Monday followed the mould of Mr Trump’s successful appointment last year of Neil Gorsuch, who was also announced in a primetime television broadcast. Both decisions were the culmination of a highly organised campaign by rightwing groups to select judges who hew to a philosophy of interpreting the constitution based on its original text.

Unlike previous presidents, Mr Trump has made his list of potential nominees known in advance, publishing 25 names from which he pledged to pick Supreme Court justices. And in contrast with the more chaotic parts of his administration, the effort to fill the US courts with conservative jurists has been a relatively smooth affair, with Republicans appointing judges to the appeals courts at a record pace.

The process has been orchestrated with the help of conservative groups like the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and the Judicial Crisis Network, which is spending millions on advertising to support Mr Trump’s nominee.

It has been one of the more successful projects of the Trump administration, helping to unite traditional Republicans behind a president who has rejected classic conservative policies in other areas like free trade.

Supreme Court of the United States

© Reuters

Clarence Thomas, 70, appointed by George H W Bush

© Reuters

John Roberts, 63, appointed by George W Bush


Samuel Alito Jr., 68, appointed by George W Bush


Stephen Breyer, 79, appointed by Bill Clinton


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, appointed by Bill Clinton


Sonia Sotomayor, 64, appointed by Barack Obama


Elena Kagan, 58, appointed by Barack Obama


Neil Gorsuch, 50, appointed by Donald Trump

Anthony Kennedy, 81, retiring, appointed by Ronald Reagan

This post was originally published on Financial Times.