President Trump has nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to fill the seat vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a move that will shift the political make-up of the court to the right.
Kavanaugh, 53, is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He has a long history in Republican circles in Washington, where he was part of Special Counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation into President Clinton and served in the George W. Bush administration, helping place conservative judges on the nation’s appeals courts.
Trump says he didn’t ask Kavanaugh about his personal views
Despite comments Trump made during the 2016 presidential campaign about appointing pro-life justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the president said he followed the example of former President Ronald Reagan and didn’t ask Kavanaugh about his personal political beliefs.
“What matters is not a judge’s political views, but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and the Constitution require,” Trump said. “I am pleased to say I have found without doubt such a person.”
Democrats say they’ll vote against his nomination
Kavanaugh’s rulings are considered solidly conservative, siding with most Republicans on issues such as religious freedom, net neutrality and reining in the power of the Environmental Protection Agency. Kavanaugh also ruled that the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act violated the constitutional rights to religious liberty.
“He is an accomplished judge… He has written serious opinions,” said CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. “The issue of competence will be off the table. The challenge will be to discuss the substance of what he will rule.”
Immediately after Trump announced that Kavanaugh was his pick, Democrats quickly signaled they would not support his nomination to the Supreme Court.
“I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have, and I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same. The stakes are simply too high for anything less,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement, citing Kavanaugh’s writings on reproductive rights and the Affordable Care Act. “If we can successfully block this nomination, it could lead to a more independent, moderate selection that both parties could support.”
According to my colleague Jonathan Tamari, Democrats in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were resolute in their opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) announced his opposition to Trump’s pick hours before it was formally announced, claiming “it represents a corrupt bargain with the far Right, big corporations, and Washington special interests.”
But Democrats alone can’t block Kavanaugh
Though some conservatives have criticized some of Kavanaugh’s rulings as too politically moderate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) will likely be able to rally Republican support behind the jurist. Though McConnell did warn President Trump that Kavanaugh could unnecessarily jeopardize an otherwise speedy confirmation, due to a lengthy paper trail of decisions and potential opposition from fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who opposed many of Bush’s hawkish policies.
With GOP Sen. John McCain recovering from surgery back home in Arizona, Trump would need every remaining Republican senator to support his nominee. Democrats, with just 47 senators (and two Independents who caucus with them) can’t block Trump’s pick on their own, thanks to McConnell’s decision in 2017 to alter Senate rules to allow a simple majority to confirm a Supreme Court nominee.
“If all the Republicans stick together, along with the vice president, they’ll be able to confirm whomever President Trump nominates,” Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday.
Democrats also face possible defections during the nomination fight from Senators in red states who face difficult re-election battles in November, such as Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
The next step of the nomination process
Next up for the nominee are yet-to-be-scheduled hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) told CNN Monday night he wouldn’t commit to holding confirmation hearing before September, pointing out that it will take time to go thought Kavanaugh’s extensive judicial record.
Once the Judiciary Committee votes, it will send its recommendation to the full Senate, which will debate and ultimately vote on the nomination. McConnell has promised that a final vote to confirm Kennedy’s successor will occur in the fall, and after canceling most of the summer recess, the Senate will return Aug. 13.