The privilege of naming justices to the U.S. Supreme Court — judges whose decisions could affect the lives of Americans for decades — is one of the most consequential choices a president can make.
President Donald Trump has already placed one justice on the court, Neil Gorsuch, and says he wants to choose a “great one” to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Trump says the new justice should have a great intellect and the right temperament.
Although Trump said during the campaign he would appoint anti-abortion judges who would overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, he said he would not ask candidates about whether they think the ruling should be reversed. But a woman’s right to choose may be at the center of the Senate’s confirmation hearings.
From a reported list of 25 Supreme Court candidates, Trump said he has narrowed his choices.
The White House said Trump has interviewed four potential picks, all of whom are federal appeals court judges.
Amy Coney Barrett
Barrett, 46, is a former law clerk to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She is a graduate of Notre Dame Law School, where she was also a law professor before joining the federal bench. She is a well-known conservative whose past comments on abortion drew attention at her Senate confirmation hearing. Barrett has said she believes life begins at conception. She once called a 1992 Supreme Court decision that upheld Roe v. Wade “erroneous.” But Barrett told senators she would not let her staunch Catholic beliefs affect her legal rulings.
Hardiman, 52, attended Georgetown Law. His “blue-collar” personal story appeals to Trump: Hardiman was the first member of his family to attend college, the University of Notre Dame, and then worked his way through law school as a taxi driver. He was in the running last year for the Supreme Court seat left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. He lost to Justice Neil Gorsuch. Hardiman, who lives in Pennsylvania, is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, where he served at one time with Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry. SCOTUSblog, which covers actions of the Supreme Court, said his opinions have shown an “originalist approach to the Second Amendment right to bear arms,” and that he “has not weighed in directly on issues relating to abortion” — two hot-button issues.
Kavanaugh, 53, earned his law degree from Yale University and was also an editor on the prestigious Yale Law Journal. He has the Ivy League credentials Trump desires, but has also been a controversial judge. Former President George W. Bush nominated him to the appeals court in 2003. But Senate Democrats held up his confirmation for three years, accusing him of being a Bush political operative. As an attorney, Kavanaugh worked for the special counsel investigating former President Bill Clinton, who was eventually impeached, and also worked for the Bush campaign during the 2000 presidential election recount. Kavanaugh had been a law clerk for Kennedy. His views on abortion are generally unknown, but Kavanaugh was part of a panel that signed an order last year to prevent an illegal teenage immigrant from getting an abortion.
Kethledge, 51, is a University of Michigan Law School graduate and former Kennedy law clerk who works out of an office he set up in an old barn overlooking Lake Huron in northern Michigan. The barn office has no internet connection and uses a wood stove for heat. A self-described introvert, Kethledge co-authored a book, “Lead Yourself First,” in which he talks about how some of the world’s great leaders learned from solitude and quiet. As an appeals court judge, Kethledge authored several notable opinions, including one that upheld the death penalty against a suspect who murdered a woman on federal land and a case in Ohio that questioned whether private citizens can sue the state for failing to enforce pollution controls. The judge ruled in favor of the state.
Thapar, 49, would be the first Supreme Court justice of Indian descent if he fills Kennedy’s seat. Thapar is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley law school. As a Kentucky federal judge in 2014, he sentenced an 84-year-old nun to three years in prison for breaking into a warehouse storing nuclear weapons materials and throwing blood on the walls. Thapar rejected attorneys’ calls for leniency, saying the elderly nun showed no remorse. An appeals court found the nun guilty of a lesser charge and released her. Thapar has also been an instructor and professor at several of the country’s top law schools.