As President Donald Trump prepared for a 9 pm ET event tonight at the White House to unveil his choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, four federal appeals court judges were part of Mr. Trump’s final review, as the President kept his decision close to the vest.
“Let’s say it’s the four people,” Mr. Trump said Sunday on the tarmac before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington from his New Jersey golf club.
“They’re excellent, every one. You can’t go wrong,” the President added.
Here’s a quick review of the possible choices to replace the retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in no particular order:
1. Appeals Court Judge Thomas Hardiman. Based in Pittsburgh for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Hardiman has been on the federal bench since 2003, when President George W. Bush nominated him for a federal district judgeship. In 2008, Hardiman was elevated to the appeals court.
Hardiman, who turned 53 on Sunday, was the bridesmaid the first time that President Trump selected a Supreme Court Justice, as Hardiman was in the running until the end, when Mr. Trump instead chose Justice Neil Gorsuch.
“Our role as judges is to interpret the law, not to inject our own policy preferences,” Hardiman said at his Senate confirmation hearing in 2007.
A graduate of the Georgetown University Law School, Hardiman would break the current hammerlock on the court of Justices who have only come through the law schools at Harvard (six of the current nine Justices) or Yale (three Justices).
2. Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh. A native of the Washington, D.C. suburbs in Maryland, Kavanaugh is well known in political and legal circles, having worked for Ken Starr on the Whitewater investigation of President Clinton.
Before becoming a judge on the D.C. federal circuit court, Kavanaugh, 53, worked for President George W. Bush, serving as Staff Secretary; in speeches, Kavanaugh does not try to hide his past political side, talking about traveling on the 2004 campaign with Mr. Bush, and praising his optimism about life in general.
“I worked for him for five and half years – love the guy,” Kavanaugh said in a recent graduation speech at the Catholic University Law School.
In a speech last year – where he spoke about how he sees judges as “umpires,” in much the same vein as the Senate confirmation testimony of Chief Justice John Roberts – Kavanaugh said once the black robe goes on, politics and personal beliefs are out the door.
“At its core, to be an umpire as a judge, means to follow the law, and not to make the law,” Kavanaugh said.
“You don’t make it up as you go along,” Kavanaugh added.
3. Appeals Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett. As a professor at the Notre Dame University Law School, Barrett was a popular legal voice before being nominated for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by President Trump in 2017 – but it was at her confirmation hearings, where she was sharply questioned by two Democratic Senators about her religion – which made her a rock star in conservative circles.
“The conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), as Feinstein and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) were criticized by Republicans for their questioning of Barrett.
“Any kind of conviction – religious or otherwise – should never surpass the law,” Barrett, 46, said at the hearing.
“My personal church affiliation, or my religious beliefs would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge,” said Barrett, who is Catholic.
Conservative groups quickly turned Barrett’s confirmation hearing into a rallying cry. It is clear she would be a very popular nominee with evangelicals and more religious Republicans – but her choice might also set off the loudest and most contentious confirmation fight of these four judges.
4. Appeals Court Judge Raymond Kethledge. While most of the attention had been focused on Hardiman, Kavanaugh, and Barrett, Judge Kethledge of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals remained somewhat in the background in recent days, with his stock reportedly slipping.
Like Hardiman and Kavanaugh, Kethledge was put on the appeals court by President George W. Bush, confirmed in 2008 by the Senate after an extended spat with Democrats over court nominations.
“I really don’t have a label that I can put on myself,” Kethledge said in his 2006 confirmation hearings. “What I would do is obviously, first and foremost, I would follow Supreme Court precedent.”
Kethledge, 51, has previous experience in the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court, as he clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy in the late 1990’s.
If nominated, Kethledge would join a Court that just reversed one of his rulings, in a major Fourth Amendment case, where the majority ruled that police in most cases would need a search warrant in order to obtain location information of a person’s cell phone.