As President Donald Trump deliberates over who he will nominate to replace late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, several female judges have emerged on his shortlist.
Trump said Monday that he will make an announcement about his choice this Friday or Saturday and he has already indicated he will choose a woman.
“It will be a woman, a very talented woman,” Trump told supporters at a campaign rally during the weekend.
The top two names believed to be in contention are federal appeals court judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa. Conventional wisdom is Barrett, a 48-year-old from Indiana, has the inside track because she was previously interviewed and vetted for the vacancy filled two years ago by Brett Kavanaugh and Trump wants to move quickly.
However, there is growing speculation that if Trump wants to use his choice as a potential boost to his electoral prospects in his November reelection bid, then the 52-year-old Lagoa, a Cuban American from Florida, might be a more enticing choice.
The interviewing and vetting process of potential nominees is usually extremely thorough to give presidents confidence that their choices will not only carry forth their political views in their future court decisions but also to avoid giving the opposing party ammunition to damage the nominee during the lengthy Senate confirmation process. But with the election looming, Trump’s desire to move quickly on a nominee and confirmation and the coronavirus pandemic altering how normal business is conducted, it is expected the vetting process will be significantly altered.
Barrett, who is a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, is widely praised by conservatives and considered by them to be in the mould of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked from 1998 to 1999.
She is a devout Catholic, which makes her respected by social conservatives but is deeply criticised by Democrats who worry she would tend towards striking down reproductive-rights laws and the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”.
When she was being considered in 2018, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted what many Democrats thought about Barrett: “Judge Barrett has given every indication that she will be an activist judge on the Court. If chosen as the nominee, she will be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and to strike down pre-existing conditions protections in the ACA.”
Roe v Wade is the 1973 landmark US Supreme Court decision that ruled that the US Constitution protects a pregnant woman”s right to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.
During Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing for her current appeals court position, Democrats assailed her religious beliefs, including a letter she signed to Catholic bishops that affirmed “the value of human life from conception to natural death; on the meaning of human sexuality, the significance of sexual difference and the complementarity of men and women; on openness to life and the gift of motherhood; and on marriage and family founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.” Democrats argued then, and will continue to argue, that her personal religious beliefs will surely influence her legal decisions.
If Trump is looking to energise conservatives and Republican voters, political observers believe Barrett is the slam-dunk choice. Her nomination would all but ensure an extreme level of political fighting between Democrats and Republicans, the kind that Trump tends to revel in.
There is a school of thought among some Republican strategists that that kind of fight could be harmful to vulnerable Republicans running for re-election, especially those in states that could determine the Senate majority next year. They are arguing that it might be better for Trump to choose someone like Lagoa, a trailblazer in her own right and someone who would be difficult for Democrats to demonise.
Lagoa is a 52-year-old Cuban American and that, combined with her Florida roots, have some thinking choosing her would give Trump an electoral boost in an extremely important battleground state with a large Latino population.
Lagoa is a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and a former Florida Supreme Court justice, where she was that court’s first Hispanic woman. If confirmed to the US Supreme Court, she would be the second Latina ever appointed and would serve with the first, Sonia Sotomayor.
Unlike Barrett, Trump has no history with Lagoa and only recently added her, along with several others, to a public list of names of people he said he would consider for the Supreme Court.
“I’ve heard incredible things about her. I don’t know her,” Trump told reporters Saturday. “She’s Hispanic and highly respected. Miami. Highly respected.”
Lagoa was vetted for her current job on the appeals court and the Senate confirmed her last year in a bipartisan 80-15 vote, something that Republicans would undoubtedly use as a talking point.
Lagoa’s views on hot-button issues are not as clear as Barrett’s, although, on a written questionnaire for her Senate confirmation hearing last year, she said she would “faithfully apply … precedents” when it came to the abortion rights decision Roe v Wade.
Democrats will surely seize on current events to criticise Lagoa, who agreed in a ruling that felons in Florida should not have their voting rights restored.
In addition to Barrett and Lagoa, Allison Jones Rushing, a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and a former clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and then-appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, is reportedly being considered. A favourite of conservative evangelicals, at 38-years-old, she would be, by far, the youngest member of the Supreme Court where its justices serve until retirement or death.