Brett Kavanaugh: Trump reveals Supreme Court justice candidate triggering major confirmation battle

'I have often heard, that other than matters of war and peace, this is the most significant decision a president can make'

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Tuesday 10 July 2018 09:24 BST
Donald Trump reveals Supreme Court justice choice Brett Kavanaugh

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Donald Trump has revealed he is nominating Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court – a move many believe will be among his most significant as president.

Ending days of frenzied speculation since the announcement last month from Justice Antony Kennedy that he was resigning, Mr Trump used a prime-time televised address to reveal his selection, a candidate who will create a strong conservative majority on the bench.

Legal experts believe the decision could change the nature of the court for years, if not decades, and help roll back some of its most significant rulings, among them the landmark Roe v Wade, which guarantees the right to a legal abortion. Mr Trump’s pick was more reward for evangelical Christians and other religious conservatives who have supported his presidency and for whom the make-up of the Supreme Court bench is a priority issue.

Mr Kavanaugh, 53, a Yale Law School graduate who previously served as a law clerk to Mr Kennedy, currently sits on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where he has authored more than 280 opinions – most of which have a distinctly conservative bent – and was widely considered the most “establishment” of the four candidates Mr Trump had narrowed his choice to.

“I have often heard that other than matters of war and peace, this is the most significant decision a president can make,” said Mr Trump, before introducing his selection.

He said he was not interested in the political views of the person he was nominating, but whether they could put those views aside in order to enact the law fairly.

In picking Mr Kavanaugh, he said he had selected someone with “impeccable credentials and unsurpassed qualifications”. He said Mr Kavanaugh was a “judge’s judge” and cited his “proven commitment to equal justice under the law”.

Mr Kavanaugh said he was humbled and deeply honoured to have been selected by Mr Trump. In brief comments, he said he would "keep an open mind in every case and always strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law”.

Yet for all the warm and moderate words in the White House, and putting aside Mr Trump’s undoubted skill at creating drama out of politics, the nomination of Mr Kavanaugh marks the start of what will be an ugly and bitterly fought confirmation battle.

Even before Mr Trump had officially revealed his selection, FreedomWorks, the conservative advocacy group which will spend millions lobbying senators to try and secure Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation, issued a statement welcoming the choice.

“Judge Kavanaugh is a fantastic choice to succeed former Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court,” it said.

It added: “Mr Kavanaugh has proven to be a staunch conservative who has relied on originalism and textualism while serving on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. We are confident he would strengthen the conservative wing of the Court and preserve the Constitution, as the framers intended.”

Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said Mr Trump’s selection had “put reproductive rights and freedoms and health care protections for millions of Americans on the judicial chopping block”. He added: “His own writings make clear that he would rule against reproductive rights and freedoms, and that he would welcome challenges to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Mr Kavanaugh was a “superb” Supreme Court pick and that senators should “put partisanship aside” in considering him.

Within moments of Mr Trump and Mr Kavanaugh concluding their remarks, reports said protesters were rallying outside the Supreme Court to demonstrate over the selection.

In recent days, it was reported that Mr Trump had narrowed his choice from 25 candidates down to just four – Mr Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman.

The longer list had been put together by the conservative Federalist Society and Mr Trump had previously stated he wanted to appoint a conservative judge who would overturn or undermine the 1973 Roe V Wade ruling that has provided a legal right for abortion.

Demonstrators crowd outside US Supreme court to protest travel ban

In recent days, he had talked of returning such a decision to individual states, many of which have already introduced tough restrictions against abortion. Six states in the country have just one clinic that provides abortion, despite repeated opinion polls showing a majority of Americans do not want to overturn Roe V Wade.

Some observers have said that by appointing a truly conservative justice, Mr Trump has created a court that could also decide to permit shopkeepers and hotel owners to refuse to serve gay customers on religious grounds, and approve laws designed to hinder voting rights.

Lourdes Rivera, a senior vice president at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, told The Independent that activists were assuming Mr Trump would try to overturn Roe V Wade because he had said he wanted to.


“This does not have to be a partisan issue. There is broad support for a woman’s right to make decisions about their life,” she said. “But it becomes politicised and that is really disappointing.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement: “We can’t forget what America was like before Roe and we know the reality today for so many women in so many states across the nation where our right to make the most fundamental decisions about our bodies, our families, and our lives has been all but eradicated. Kavanaugh would use the court as a tool to doom all women to that fate.”

Mr Trump's announcement from the East Room of the White House marked just the start of the process to appoint his second justice to the nation’s highest court in less than two years.

His pick now has to be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority. Given that Senator John McCain, who is receiving treatment for brain cancer, has not been present on Capitol Hill since December this effectively reduces the majority to 50-49. In such circumstances, Democrats only need to persuade one Republican senator to block the candidate.

Monday night’s announcement will unleash a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign from both conservatives and liberals, seeking to put pressure on Democrats in red states and moderate Republicans.

Susan Collins of Maine, who has said she would not vote to confirm a candidate who wanted to change Roe v Wade, is already under intense pressure to vote against the candidate. At the same time, three Democratic senators from states Mr Trump won in the 2016 presidential election – Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin – will be targeted by conservatives to support the candidate’s nomination.

Reuters said Mr Kavanaugh had amassed a solidly conservative judicial record since 2006 on the influential US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the same court where three current justices including Chief Justice John Roberts previously served.

Some conservative activists have questioned whether he would rule sufficiently aggressively as a justice, but last year Mr Kavanaugh ruled to prevent a teenager in immigrant detention from getting an abortion.

When the ruling was later overturned by the full court, he claimed the decision would give immigrant minors a right to “immediate abortion on demand”. The judge has also frequently ruled against Obama-era environmental regulations, and said he would like to strike down Washington DC’s ban on certain semi-automatic long guns.

“My judicial philosophy is straightforward: a judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law,” Mr Kavanaugh said during Monday night ceremony, during which he also stressed the importance of his family and his Catholic faith.

“A judge must interpret statutes as written. And a judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history, and tradition and precedent.”

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