The top two contenders to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court are a former staff secretary to George W. Bush and a former law clerk to Antonin Scalia who was castigated for her Catholic beliefs by several Democratic senators, according to sources involved in the nomination process.
Brett Kavanaugh, after serving in the Bush White House, joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2006 after Democrats held up his nomination process for three years. Amy Coney Barrett was elevated to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just eight months ago after a contentious nomination hearing in which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told the judge “the dogma lives loudly within you,” contending her writings indicated her religious beliefs would prevail over the law.
The Daily Caller News Foundation cited multiple sources saying President Trump is giving Kavanaugh and Barrett the most serious consideration. The president said Friday he has narrowed his choices to five and will reveal his nominee July 9.
The others on his short list are believed to be Judge Raymond Kethledge, 51, of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals; Judge Thomas Hardiman, 51, of the 6th Circuit; and Judge Amul Thapar, 49, of the 6th Circuit.
The sources told the Daily Caller some that some conservative activists have expressed concern about Kavanaugh, who has two decades in Washington. His wife, before they were married, served as personal secretary to President George W. Bush at the same time Kavanaugh was in the White House.
Barrett, on the other hand, is a favorite of outside conservatives, including Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and Bloomberg columnist Ramesh Ponnuru.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that “the White House Counsel’s Office, led by Don McGahn, will again oversee the selection and overall confirmation process,” and that “the Department of Justice is fully engaged to support the nomination and confirmation efforts.”
The Daily Caller said Kavanaugh has developed a reputation on the D.C. Circuit as a text-driven judge and careful tactician. A recent case, for example, asked whether the Trump administration is obligated to facilitate abortions for alien minors in federal custody. Kavanaugh and another judge proposed a compromise that gave the government 11 days to find a guardian who would procure the procedure for the minor. The tactic was seen as an attempt to stop the court’s Democratic majority from expanding abortion rights.
Barrett, a member of the Notre Dame law faculty after serving as a law clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, is regarded as a rigorous scholar and thinker.
A devout Catholic, Barrett and her husband are the parents of seven children and belong to a charismatic Catholic group called People of Praise. The Catholic League challenged critics who describe the group as a cult, pointing out that, among other things, it “operates interracial schools and camps, and provides for many family outings; members often travel together.”
“Is it a Catholic fringe group? No, for if it were, Pope Francis would not have welcomed it in June: he celebrated with them, and others, the 50th anniversary of the Catholic charismatic renewal; the event drew over 30,000 people from 128 countries.”
‘So much at stake’
Shortly after news of Kennedy’s retirement broke last Wednesday, Trump confirmed he will choose from a successor from a list of 25 candidates. He presented 20 names during his election campaign and added five more last fall, emphasizing they are “in the mold” of his first nominee, Neil M. Gorsuch, who has pleased his conservative base.
Democrats have reacted with horror to the retirement of Kennedy, regarded as the court’s swing vote, recognizing the possibility of Trump choosing a reliable conservative who could shift the court to the right for a generation.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote on confirmation in the fall. But the second ranking Democratic leader, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., insisted a vote must wait until the new Congress is seated after the fall election, echoing McConnell’s approach two years ago when Senate Republicans delayed acting on a successor to Scalia.
“With so much at stake for the people of our country, the U.S. Senate must be consistent and consider the president’s nominee once the new Congress is seated in January,” Durbin said in a statement.
Clinging to a 51-vote majority in the Senate, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who will preside over court nominations, said he hopes to hold confirmation hearings “in the weeks ahead.”