US President Donald Trump has nominated federal appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.
Trump made the announcement on Monday night, saying it was an “honor and privilege” to nominate Kavanaugh.
In picking the 53-year-old, Trump aimed to entrench conservative control of the court for years to come with his second lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest judicial body in his first 18 months as president.
Kavanaugh now faces what appears to be another fierce fight for confirmation in the Senate, where Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a slim majority. If confirmed, Kavanaugh would replace long-serving conservative Justice Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27 at age 81.
“Throughout legal circles, he’s considered a judge’s judge, a true thought leader among his peers,” Trump, who named conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to the court last year, told an audience in the White House East Room.
“He’s a brilliant jurist with a clear and effective writing style, universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time. And just like Justice Gorsuch, he excelled as a legal clerk for Justice Kennedy,” Trump added, saying his nominee “deserves a swift confirmation and robust bipartisan support”.
Kavanaugh has 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.
“My judicial philosophy is straightforward: a judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written. And a judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history, and tradition and precedent,” Kavanaugh said during the ceremony in which he underscored his ties to his family and his Roman Catholic faith.
In the lead-up to the nomination, some conservatives had 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 cited his experience and wide range of legal opinions.
‘Ear-pulling, nose-biting fight’ expected
With Democrats determined to vigorously oppose Trump’s choice, the Senate confirmation battle is expected to dominate the months leading up to November’s midterm elections. Senate Republicans hold only a 51-49 majority, including Senator John McCain, who is undergoing cancer treatment and may not be available for the vote. This leaves them hardly any margin if Democrats hold the line. Democratic senators running for re-election in states Trump carried in 2016 will face pressure to back his nominee.
Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said he was bracing for a tough confirmation battle as Democrats focus on abortion. Kennedy, a member of the Judiciary Committee, which will get the first chance to question the nominee, predicted a “rough, tough, down in the dirt, ear-pulling, nose-biting fight”.
Democrats have turned their attention to pressuring two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to oppose any nominee who threatens the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which protects a woman’s right to abortion. The two senators have supported access to abortion services.
One Democrat up for re-election, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, announced Monday he would oppose any nominee from Trump’s list of 25 possible candidates, drafted by conservative groups. He called it the “fruit of a corrupt process straight from the DC swamp”.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said opponents were using “40-year-old scare tactics” over abortion and other issues but they “will not stop us from doing the right thing.”
The White House said Monday that former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl would guide Trump’s nominee through the gruelling Senate process.
Kavanaugh is expected to meet in coming days with senators at their offices, going door-to-door in get-to-know-you sessions before the confirmation hearings.