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US Politics

Donald Trump promises to pick Supreme Court nominee by July 9 – but won’t ask them about abortion

Trump said that he would announce his replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in just over a week – and two women are among his top candidates

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 June, 2018, 6:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 June, 2018, 6:41am

US President Donald Trump has promised to announce his replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on July 9, and says that two women are among his top candidates for the job, which could threaten abortion access in the US.

The president, who spoke aboard Air Force One on the way to his golf club in New Jersey on Friday, said he had identified a group of at least five potential candidates for the nation’s high court and that he may interview as many as seven.

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A person familiar with the process said White House officials are focused primarily on five federal appeal court judges – Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Thomas Hardiman, Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar – all Republican appointees with conservative track records.

Kennedy, a key swing vote on the court, announced Wednesday that he would retire next month, immediately activating a network of White House aides, congressional allies and outside advocates, all set for their second Supreme Court confirmation fight in two years.

Trump told reporters he planned to begin interviewing possible candidates Monday but he may meet some over the weekend in New Jersey, saying that “It’s a great group of intellectual talent.”

The loss of Kennedy – whose moderate position made him the “swing judge” who could act as a tiebreaker between the four conservative and four liberal justices on the bench – has led to fears that the Supreme Court might become overwhelmingly conservative.

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That, liberals fear, could lead to the overturning of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that forbade criminalising or restricting access to abortions – a decades-long aspiration of the Republican Party.

But when asked if he planned to question potential court nominees their views on abortion rights and Roe v. Wade, he responded, “That’s not a question I’ll be asking.”

“I think it’s inappropriate to discuss,” he added.

Trump has acted quickly on his selection process. He met Thursday evening at the White House with key senators – Republicans Chuck Grassley, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and Democrats Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly and Heidi Heitkamp – to discuss the vacancy.

The White House said Trump’s team also spoke with more than a dozen additional senators.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has committed to confirming a nominee in the fall, which the Republican-controlled Senate should be able to do if McConnell can hold his razor-thin majority together.

Trump has promised to draw the next justice from a list of 25 prospective candidates that was first established during the 2016 presidential campaign and updated last fall. That list includes six women.

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Some possible nominees being eyed include Hardiman, who serves alongside Trump’s sister on the Philadelphia-based 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals, and Kethledge, a federal appeal court judge who clerked for Kennedy.

Also of interest are Thapar, who serves on the federal appeal court in Cincinnati, lives in Kentucky and is close to McConnell; Kavanaugh, a former clerk for Kennedy who serves on the federal appeal court in Washington, DC; and Coney Barrett, who serves on the federal appeal court in Chicago.

In the run-up to selecting Gorsuch, Trump met three contenders and White House officials vetted several more.

The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative political campaign organisation, has launched a seven-figure ad buy aimed at vulnerable Democrats, said chief counsel and policy director Carrie Severino. She said the group spent US$10 million supporting the Gorsuch confirmation.

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“We’d be very happy if he’d pick any name on that list,” said Severino. “Judges, and particularly the Supreme Court, have been a resounding success of this administration. What we’re seeing here is Gorsuch 2.0.”

Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, a campaign group aligned with McConnell, said the group began running ads Thursday in 10 states that Trump won in 2016 where Democratic senators are now up for re-election.