Sides gird for battle as Trump readies to make Supreme Court pick

Choice could upend decades of progress on women’s reproductive rights, health care and gay rights, Democrats warn, ahead of president’s prime-time announcement Monday

US President Donald Trump confers with the media upon arrival at Morristown Municipal Airport in Morristown, New Jersey, July 8, 2018 prior to boarding Air Force One following a weekend in Bedminster, New Jersey. (AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON)
US President Donald Trump confers with the media upon arrival at Morristown Municipal Airport in Morristown, New Jersey, July 8, 2018 prior to boarding Air Force One following a weekend in Bedminster, New Jersey. (AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is to announce his US Supreme Court pick on Monday, an intensely anticipated decision that opposition Democrats say will likely push the bench rightward with explosive implications for the country.

Trump plans to unveil his pick to succeed retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy in a 9:00 pm (4 a.m. Israel time) televised appearance at the White House.

“We are close to making a decision,” Trump told reporters late Sunday.

The choice was down to four people, he said, adding that “you can’t go wrong” with any of them.

“I’ll be deciding tonight or tomorrow sometime by 12 o’clock,” he said.

In a later tweet he said he was looking forward to the Monday night announcement of his “exceptional” pick.

Kennedy was long a swing vote on the nine-member court, and Trump’s choice — his second opportunity in 18 months to fill a Supreme Court vacancy — will dramatically affect many aspects of American life, from abortion to voting rights to immigration.

Democrats — unable to block the nominee unless they lure some Republican senators to their side — have stressed the high stakes of the president’s decision as they prepare for the confirmation battle ahead.

Senator Dianne Feinstein said Trump’s choice “could have a bigger effect on Americans’ daily lives than any justice in our lifetime.”

Another Democrat, Senator Richard Blumenthal, on Sunday assailed Trump’s reliance on a list of potential nominees endorsed by the conservative Federalist Society.

“I’ve never seen a president of the United States in effect make himself a puppet of outside groups and choose from a group of right-wing fringe ideologues,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

‘Pro-life justices’

Democrats have sounded the alarm that Trump could shift the ideological balance of the court and thereby place women’s reproductive rights, health care and gay rights at risk.

Trump indeed said during the 2016 campaign that he would put “pro-life justices on the court,” thrilling his grassroots base although polls show most Americans support abortion rights.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer called Trump recently to warn it would be “cataclysmic” for national unity if he nominated someone hostile to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that protects women’s rights to abortion, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

Judicial experts say Trump seems to be focusing on three contenders — federal judges Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge and Amy Coney Barrett.

In this Wednesday, March 8, 2017 photo, Judge Thomas Hardiman smiles during a meeting with The Associated Press in Philadelphia. (AP/Matt Slocum)

On Sunday Leonard Leo, a Federalist Society official who has been advising Trump, added a fourth name: that of Thomas Hardiman, 53, a federal appeals court judge in Philadelphia.

A fellow judge there, Maryanne Trump Barry, one of the president’s sisters, reportedly has recommended him to her brother.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri said Sunday that they believe any of the top four contenders could get confirmed by the GOP-majority Senate.

“I think we can confirm any of the four names being mentioned,” Blunt said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”They’re good judges. I think they’d be fine justices of the Supreme Court. I do think the president has to think about who is the easiest to get confirmed here. And I expect we will do that on sort of a normal timetable, a couple of months.”

The president and White House officials involved in the process have fielded calls and messages and have been on the receiving end of public pleas and op-eds for or against specific candidates since Kennedy announced on June 27 that he would retire this summer.

None of the judges named is older than 53, meaning any of them could sit on the court for several decades, allowing Trump to make a lasting imprint on the nation’s laws.

Amy Coney Barrett (C-Span screenshot)

Barrett, 46, is a rising judicial star and a favorite among social conservatives. As a woman and mother, she could upend the narrative pushed by Democrats that Trump’s pick would erode women’s rights.

But Trump appointed Barrett to the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit just nine months ago, and he may well leave her to gain more experience.

Kavanaugh, 53, began his career as a clerk to Kennedy. As a judge on the US Court of Appeals in Washington he has written opinions on some of the nation’s most sensitive issues.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh stands on stage after he and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito participated in the opening panel of Georgetown Law Journal’s annual symposium, in Washington, Thursday, November 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

He recently voiced disagreement with a court decision allowing an undocumented teenage immigrant to get an abortion.

Some conservatives have expressed concerns about Kavanaugh — a longtime judge and former clerk for Kennedy — questioning his commitment to social issues like abortion and noting his time serving under President George W. Bush as evidence he is a more establishment choice.

But his supporters cite his experience and wide range of legal opinions.

In this May 7, 2008, image from video provided by C-SPAN, Raymond Kethledge testifies during his confirmation hearing for the Sixth US Circuit Court on Capitol Hill in Washington.(C-SPAN via AP)

Kethledge, 51, sits on the Sixth Circuit appeals court. He is seen as supporting originalism, an interpretation of the Constitution along the lines of its meaning at the time of enactment.

With the Senate’s Republican leadership saying it aims to complete the confirmation process before November’s midterm elections, Democrats were nearing panic mode.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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