WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh, a politically connected conservative judge, for the Supreme Court Monday, setting up a ferocious confirmation battle with Democrats as he seeks to shift the nation’s highest court further to the right.
A favorite of the Republican legal establishment in Washington, Kavanaugh, 53, is a former law clerk for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Like Trump’s first nominee last year, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh would be a young addition who could help remake the court for decades to come with rulings that could restrict abortion, expand gun rights and roll back key parts of Obamacare.
“There is no one in America more qualified for this position and no one more deserving,” said Trump, who called Kavanaugh “one of the sharpest legal minds of our time.”
Missouri and Kansas elected officials voiced their opinions of Trump’s nominee.
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today released the following statement on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy.
“I look forward to thoroughly examining Judge Kavanaugh’s record in the coming weeks as the Senate considers his nomination to replace Justice Kennedy.”
McCaskill has voted in support of more than two-thirds of President Trump’s judicial nominations since he took office in January 2017.
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt gave his thoughts.
“Judge Kavanaugh is a highly-qualified nominee with an outstanding legal background. I look forward to learning more about his judicial record and talking with him about his judicial philosophy as the confirmation process moves forward.”
Missouri Attorney General released a statement Monday.
“Judge Kavanaugh is a remarkably qualified nominee for the Supreme Court. I have full confidence he will uphold the Constitution as the people wrote it, not impose his values from the bench. And that’s what the people deserve. The balance of the court turns on this nomination and I applaud the President for his thoughtfulness on this decision.
“Unfortunately, the deciding vote may well rest with Senator Claire McCaskill – who has been wrong on Supreme Court nominees every single time. She supports liberal activists, voted for every single judicial nomination under President Obama, and opposed Justice Neil Gorsuch. She refuses to abandon Chuck Schumer and her left-wing allies, and we can expect this time to be no different. Missourians deserve a Senator who will fight for our way of life and support a constitutional conservative like Judge Kavanaugh.”
Kan. Gov. Jeff Colyer voiced his clear support for Trump’s pick via Twitter.
I could not be more thrilled that @potus has selected @BrettKavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court. For the first time in a long time we will have a majority of constitutional conservatives on the Supreme Court, who will defend liberty and adhere to the constitution as written.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts released his statement on Twitter.
Congrats to Judge Kavanaugh on his nomination to the #SCOTUS. I take my responsibility of ‘advice and consent’ very seriously & look forward to the @senjudiciary’s thorough vetting of his record. I look forward to mtg Judge Kavanaugh & hope for a fair confirmation process.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran provided his thoughts on Kavanaugh.
“As a former Supreme Court clerk for Justice Kennedy and current Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals since 2006, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a well-qualified nominee with extensive experience in the legal field. In the coming weeks, I will review Judge Kavanaugh’s body of legal writing and meet with him to discuss his interpretation of the law and make certain he will be a steadfast defender of our constitution.”
Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri’s 6th District gave a statement.
“Selecting a Supreme Court Justice is one of the most important decisions the President can make,” said Graves. “Judge Kavanaugh’s commitment to uphold the Constitution, conservative values, and his reputation as a brilliant jurist make him an excellent choice. I am confident that he will serve with distinction and I urge the Senate to act swiftly to confirm him to the Supreme Court.”
“With Kavanaugh, Trump is replacing a swing vote on the nine-member court with a staunch conservative. Kavanaugh, who serves on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is expected to be less receptive to abortion and gay rights than Kennedy was. He also has taken an expansive view of executive power and has favored limits on investigating the president.
A senior White House official said Trump made his final decision on the nomination Sunday evening, then phoned Kavanaugh to inform him.
The official said Trump decided on Kavanaugh, a front-runner throughout the search process, because of his large body of jurisprudence cited by other courts, describing him as a judge that other judges read.
On Monday, Trump phoned retiring Justice Kennedy to inform him that his former law clerk would be nominated to fill his seat. Trump signed Kavanaugh’s nomination papers Monday evening in the White House residence.
Top contenders had included federal appeals judges Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman. Relishing the guessing game beyond the White House gates, Trump had little to say about his choice before the announcement.
Some conservatives have expressed concerns about Kavanaugh, questioning his commitment to social issues like abortion and noting his time serving under President George W. Bush as evidence he is a more establishment choice. But his supporters have cited his experience and wide range of legal opinions.
Ahead of his announcement, Trump tweeted about the stakes: “I have long heard that the most important decision a U.S. President can make is the selection of a Supreme Court Justice – Will be announced tonight at 9:00 P.M.”
With Democrats determined to vigorously oppose Trump’s choice, the Senate confirmation battle is expected to dominate the months leading up to November’s midterm elections. Senate Republicans hold only a 51-49 majority, leaving them hardly any margin if Democrats hold the line. Democratic senators running for re-election in states Trump carried in 2016 will face pressure to back his nominee.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said he was bracing for a tough confirmation battle as Democrats focus on abortion. Kennedy, a member of the Judiciary Committee, which will get the first chance to question the nominee, predicted a “rough, tough, down in the dirt, ear-pulling, nose-biting fight.”
Trump’s success in confirming conservative judges, as well as a Supreme Court justice, has cheered Republicans amid concerns about his limited policy achievements and chaotic management style. Of the court’s liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Stephen Breyer turns 80 next month, so Trump may well get another opportunity to cement conservative dominance of the court for years to come.
Kavanaugh is likely to be more conservative than Justice Kennedy on a range of social issues. At the top of that list is abortion. A more conservative majority could be more willing to uphold state restrictions on abortion, if not overturn the 45-year-old landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s constitutional right.
Kennedy’s replacement also could be more willing to allow states to carry out executions and could support undoing earlier court holdings in the areas of racial discrimination in housing and the workplace. Kennedy provided a decisive vote in 2015 on an important fair housing case.
While the president has been pondering his choice, his aides have been preparing for what is expected to be a tough confirmation fight. The White House said Monday that former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl would guide Trump’s nominee through the grueling Senate process.
Kyl, a former member of Republican leadership, served on the Senate Judiciary Committee before retiring in 2013. He works for the Washington-based lobbying firm Covington & Burling. The White House hopes Kyl’s close ties to Senate Republicans will help smooth the path for confirmation.
Trump is hoping to replicate his successful nomination of Justice Gorsuch last year. The president spent the days leading up to his announcement discussing the pros and cons of various contenders with aides and allies.
The White House invited a number of senators to attend the Monday night announcement, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and committee member Kennedy.
Democrats who were invited but declined included Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Dianne Feinstein of California. Feinstein is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. The others are Republican targets for the confirmation vote who come from Trump-won states where they face re-election this fall.
Kavanaugh is expected to meet in coming days with senators at their offices, going door-to-door in get-to-know-you sessions ahead of confirmation hearings.
Democrats have turned their attention to pressuring two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to oppose any nominee who threatens Roe v. Wade. The two have supported access to abortion services.
One Democrat up for re-election, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, announced Monday he would oppose any nominee from Trump’s list of 25 possible candidates, drafted by conservative groups. He called it the “fruit of a corrupt process straight from the D.C. swamp.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said opponents were using “40-year-old scare tactics” over abortion and other issues but they “will not stop us from doing the right thing.”