Selection for Supreme Court sets up battle with Democrats
President Donald Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh, a politically connected conservative judge, for the Supreme Court on Monday night, 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 in his prime-time televised address from the White House, calling Kavanaugh “one of the sharpest legal minds of our time.”
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.
Valley voices in Washington were quick to issue statements.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said: “President Trump wants a Supreme Court willing to fight for corporations’ rights as a ‘person,’ but not for the rights of workers to collectively bargain and earn a living wage. He wants ... a court that will toss aside established precedent and take away a women’s right to her own healthcare and reproductive decisions.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, responded: “I’m already very troubled by the Supreme Court’s recent decisions stripping rights from Ohioans, and I have serious concerns about some of Judge Kavanaugh’s rulings against women’s rights and consumer rights.”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said: “Judge Kavanaugh ... is highly regarded as a fair-minded and independent judge and is clearly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, said: “America needs a qualified Supreme Court Justice who will be a strong defender of the Constitution - and someone who will stay strong when it comes to upholding America’s rule of law. ... I believe Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who currently serves on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, fits this profile.”
Speaking at the White House, Kavanaugh pledged to preserve the Constitution and said that “a judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret the Constitution as written.”
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 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.
Top contenders had included federal appeals judges Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman.
Some conservatives have expressed concerns about Kavanaugh, questioning his commitment to social issues such as 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.
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.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Kavanaugh “a superb choice” and said senators would start meeting with him this week.
Some Republican senators had favored other options. Rand Paul of Kentucky had expressed concerns but tweeted that he looked forward to meeting with Kavanaugh “with an open mind.”