Trump ‘Very Close’ to Supreme Court Decision, but May Wait Untill Final Hours
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. — July 9, 2018
President Trump is very close to making a decision on a Supreme Court nominee. His list has shrunk to 4 candidates, but he wants to take an extra 12 hours to make his choice, telling reporters it would come before noon on Monday.
According to people close to the selection process, Judges Thomas M. Hardiman, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Raymond M. Kethledge are heading the president’s list. But people close to the process said that Trump has appeared to lose much of his interest in Raymond M. Kethledge. The president had found him likable but comparatively dull. And some conservatives, whose support has guided Mr. Trump’s thinking about the courts, have voiced concern about Judge Kethledge on issues like immigration, with some comparing him to Justice David H. Souter, who was appointed by President George Bush Senior, and who disappointed some Republicans with his voting record.
President Trump has little room for maneuvering. Taking into consideration the Republicans’ razor-thin majority in the Senate and the looming midterm elections, he would prefer a choice who could be confirmed with relative ease.
Judge Hardiman has perfect a personal story. He was the first member of his family to graduate from college, and he helped pay for his education by driving a taxi. He also has an important supporter within the Trump family. He served with Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, Mr. Trump’s sister, on the United State’s Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia. Judge Barry recommended Judge Hardiman to her brother last year as a good choice for the court, according to two people close to Mr. Trump.
Judge Hardiman’s appointment would also bring some educational diversity to a Supreme Court awash in Ivy League diplomas. Judge Hardiman attended the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University Law Center.
The second candidate Trump spoke highly of is Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a staunch social conservative.
Trump continued to discuss Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, a former staff secretary to George W. Bush, who was a favorite of the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, who was seen as a favorite all last week.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, has cautioned Trump that Judge Hardiman and Judge Kethledge would be the safest picks in terms of Senate confirmation, a process that may have to take place without any Democratic support.
He has warned that the extensive paper trail Judge Kavanaugh left as a White House staff secretary and judge could give Democrats a cudgel with which to slow the process and prevent the judge from being seated by the start at the October session of the court.
Supporters of Judge Hardiman, who turned 53 on Sunday, also say he would have an easier time getting confirmed than some of the other contenders.
Judge Kavanaugh would face questioning, for instance, about his service under Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton. And Judge Barrett would face opposition from abortion rights groups, given her academic writings which included skepticism about whether the establishment of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision enshrining a constitutional right to abortion, had constitutional precedent.
Mr. Trump assures us that he has not made the final decision, calling all four of his final choices to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy “excellent,” and adding, “You can’t go wrong.” And he is right. He has no room for error. Without a doubt, he is aware of the importance of this nomination to his political base. In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday morning, Leonard Leo, one of the president’s key outside advisers on judges, said Trump was aware that his commitment to conservative judges was significant to his victory in 2016.
“What drives the president in this process is that he made the Supreme Court a huge issue in the election, more than any other presidential candidate,” Mr. Leo said. “He greatly enthused voters over it, and it was one of the big factors that led to his election and holding the U.S. Senate. And so he kept that momentum going with Neil Gorsuch, and now he’s got another opportunity to do it again.”