Trump Chooses Kavanaugh for Supreme Court

Trump Chooses Kavanaugh for Supreme Court
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Trump Chooses Kavanaugh for Supreme Court
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
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President Trump selected the second Supreme Court nominee of his term on Monday, nominating federal appellate court Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, a well-known legal figure among conservatives. 

"In keeping with President Reagan's legacy, I do not ask about a nominee's personal opinions,” Trump said in his announcement speech at the White House. “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.” 

Senate Democrats have already expressed deep skepticism toward the pick—some of it even before knowing who was chosen—mainly out of a stated concern for the future of Roe v. Wade, the controversial 1973 Supreme Court decision making legal abortion the law of the land. 

"My judicial philosophy is straightforward,” Kavanaugh said Monday night after being introduced at the White House. “A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written. And a judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent.” 

With his wife and two daughters by his side, Kavanaugh added: "I will tell each senator that I revere the Constitution. I believe that an independent judiciary is the crown jewel of our republic. If confirmed by the Senate, I will keep an open mind in every case and will always try to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law."

If he is confirmed, Kavanaugh will replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. A graduate of Yale Law School, he currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He previously served in the White House counsel’s office when George W. Bush was president and worked on Kenneth Starr’s investigation into former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. He also clerked for Justice Kennedy.  

In remarks made at the White House, he credited his mother, Martha Kavanaugh, with his career choice.
"One of the few women prosecutors of that time, she overcame barriers and became a trial judge,” he said. “The president introduced me tonight as Judge Kavanaugh. But to me, that title will always belong to my mom.”  

In addition to his Roman Catholic faith, he also highlighted his commitment to hiring and working with women. "My law clerks come from diverse backgrounds and points of view,” he said. “I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women.”  

Only a year and a half into his presidency, Trump has now been accorded the opportunity of filling two Supreme Court vacancies. His first was Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was named long after the sudden Feb. 13, 2016 death of Antonin Scalia. After Senate Republicans infuriated their Democratic counterparts by delaying action until after the presidential election, Gorsuch was nominated in January 2017 and confirmed that April. 

"This incredibly qualified nominee deserves a swift confirmation and robust, bipartisan support," Trump said last night.

That may be wishful thinking, as Kavanaugh now faces a contentious confirmation process beginning with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Although Gorsuch also faced  tough vetting, that process involved naming a conservative to fill the seat of a staunch conservative. Kennedy, on the other hand, has been a decisive a swing vote on the court. He is seen as a centrist conservative and cast the deciding vote in the 1992 case that affirmed Roe. He also wrote the majority opinions in most of the gay rights cases during his time on the bench.  

Democrats have already warned they will not hold back with this nominee.  

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor Monday afternoon to criticize previous Supreme Court appointees for disregarding legal precedent, and said the Senate needs to push nominees to make specific promises. 
“So when they say they’ll obey settled law, you can’t believe it,” Schumer said. “You can’t believe it ’cause it just hasn’t happened in this new, conservative court that is so eager to make law, not interpret it. 

The New York Democrat added that Trump created a conservative “litmus test” for his nominee, not the Senate.

“At this critical juncture, with so many rights and liberties at stake, U.S. senators and the American people should expect an affirmative statement of support for the personal liberties of all Americans from the next Supreme Court nominee,” Schumer added.  

If the committee recommends Kavanagh to the full Senate, the nomination cannot proceed until 51 senators vote to end the debate. Republicans changed the chamber’s rules during Gorsuch’s nominating process last spring to use the so-called “nuclear option,” which only requires a simple majority versus 60 votes. Former Democratic leader Harry Reid, however, had set the precedent for ending some filibuster rules when his party held the majority. 

Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that the line of criticism from Democrats was the same made against every conservative nominee. “Our Democratic colleagues still haven’t tired of crying wolf whenever a Republican president nominates anyone — anyone — to the Supreme Court,” he said on the Senate floor before the Kavanaugh nomination was announced. “We’ve seen this same movie time after time after time.” 

Republicans know their voters are counting on them to confirm this nominee, and their ability to do so is a primary reason they hold the majority in both chambers, as well as the White House.  

According to a 2016 CNN exit poll, 56 percent of those who supported Trump ranked the Supreme Court as “the most important factor” in casting their vote. Among those voting for Hillary Clinton, 41 percent ranked court appointments as “the most” important.

A Gallup survey in January 2017 found that 42 percent of voters in states Trump won thought the court was too liberal. The poll was taken prior to Gorsuch’s nomination.  

Despite the simple majority rule, the White House is not guaranteed of securing the requisite 51 votes. They hold a slim majority of 51 seats, meaning that if more than one Republican vote is lost, they must pick up at least one Democrat. (Vice President Mike Pence would break a 50-50 tie.) 

The conservative-leaning Judicial Crisis Network has already committed $1.4 million to pressure red state Democrats into supporting Kavanaugh. The states include: Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia where ads are set to run for one week with another four weeks of national airtime to follow. 

The only three Democrats who supported Gorsuch’s nomination were from these states: Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who are all considered vulnerable in the upcoming midterm races. They represent states where Trump won in 2016 by wide margins and continues to remain popular.

Sally Persons is RealClearPolitics' White House correspondent.

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