While President Trump has not publicly narrowed his list of possible Supreme Court nominees, a person familiar with the process told the Associated Press his top three are federal appeals judges Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge.
The source cautioned that others could still be in the mix as Trump prepares to announce his choice Monday to replace the retiring Anthony Kennedy.
The president is choosing from a list of 25 candidates vetted by conservative groups. Along with the top three, he interviewed this week federal appeals judges Amul Thapar, Thomas Hardiman and Joan Larsen. He also spoke by phone with Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah — who is on the list of 25 — but the White House characterized the conversation as consultation.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wrote in a Fox News op-ed that Lee would be a “sure thing,” warning Republican presidents have seriously erred, choosing former justices William Brennan, John Paul Stevens and Harry Blackmun, the author of the Roe v. Wade abortion decision.
The possibility of a solid conservative replacing Kennedy’s swing vote on the nine-member court is on the minds of Democratic lawmakers and activists who fear a reversal of Roe v. Wade.
It’s why the pro-life views of Barrett, a devout Catholic, have loomed large in the debate.
Barrett, a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia and a Notre Dame Law School professor, was grilled for her Christian beliefs eight months ago by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., when the Senate Judiciary Committee considered her nomination to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Feinstein told Barrett “the dogma lives loudly within you,” contending her writings indicated her religious beliefs would prevail over the law.
Many progressive opponents of Barrett are pointing to a Sept. 28, 2017, New York Times article by Laurie Goodstein that essentially concluded she was a member of a cult, a “small, tightly knit Christian group called People of Praise.”
But National Review writer David French points out the group is “so dastardly” that Pope Francis appointed one of its members as auxiliary bishop of Portland. Further, the group founded three schools that have won seven Department of Education Blue Ribbon awards, and the late Cardinal Francis George wrote: “In my acquaintance with the People of Praise, I have found men and women dedicated to God and eager to seek and do His divine will. They are shaped by love of Holy Scripture, prayer and community; and the Church’s mission is richer for their presence.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has voiced opposition to Barrett, asserting she will be an “activist judge” on the Supreme Court because of her pro-life views and her disagreement with the court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.
“If chosen as the nominee, she will be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and to strike down pre-existing conditions protections in the ACA,” he said.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted Tuesday his view that Barrett “would make an outstanding Supreme Court Justice.”
“Her clarity and intellectual strength in the Senate hearings for her current judgeship showed an intellect and a depth of thought that would be powerful on the Supreme Court,” Gingrich wrote.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine affirmed to reporters Wednesday she will not affirm a nominee with “demonstrated hostility” to Roe v. Wade. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is another Republican who has supported abortion. The GOP holds a narrow 51-49 margin in the Senate.
The AP cited a source saying Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has told colleagues he might not vote for Kavanaugh because of the judge’s role during the Bush administration on cases involving executive privilege and the disclosure of documents to Congress.
Kethledge, a Michigan Law graduate, is regarded by some conservatives as a potential justice in the mold of Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.