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Who's In The Running For Kennedy's Seat


Now, we are down to just a handful of names. President Trump has narrowed his list of Supreme Court nominees to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy. He's expected to announce his final pick on Monday evening. To learn a bit more about who's on the shortlist, we turn to David Lat. He's editor at large and founding editor of Above The Law, a legal news website. He joins me now from member station WFCR in Amherst, Mass. Welcome to our program.

DAVID LAT: Thanks for having me, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So who's still in contention? Who made the shortlist?

LAT: It appears that President Trump has narrowed his Supreme Court consideration to four contenders - Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit, Judge Raymond Kethledge of the 6th Circuit, Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit and Judge Thomas Hardiman of the 3rd Circuit. So they're all four Federal Appeals Court judges from different parts of the country.

WERTHEIMER: And we don't really know which ones he prefers yet or which are - but let's start with Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Why is he an appealing nominee?

LAT: Judge Brett Kavanaugh is an extremely well credentialed, highly regarded judge on the D.C. Circuit, which is really the second most important and influential court in the country after the Supreme Court. He's a known quantity in the legal conservative movement. He's been a judge on that court for more than a dozen years, where he has ruled on very important high-profile issues. So with his background, with his credentials - he's a former clerk to Justice Kennedy. He's a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School. He is, in many ways, a very appealing candidate.

WERTHEIMER: A very appealing candidate but not necessarily to President Trump's base voters - who do you think they'd like best?

LAT: So it seems that many members of President Trump's base prefer Amy Coney Barrett. She's been on the Federal Appeals Court, the 7th Circuit out of Chicago for a couple - about eight months or so. She's a former law professor at Notre Dame. And she's quite conservative and Catholic. And she engendered some - or I should say Senator Feinstein engendered some controversy when, at Judge Barrett's confirmation hearings, she said something to the nominee along the lines of the dogma - meaning Catholic teaching - lives loudly within you. And this, of course, was viewed by many as anti-Catholic, anti-religious. And Judge Barrett then became a hero to the president's base.

WERTHEIMER: One of the most interesting things I think about the current court, with - when Judge Kennedy was on it, was how many Catholics there were. Almost everyone was a Catholic on that court. What about Barrett and Kavanaugh? They seem to have momentum. But right behind them is Kethledge and Hardiman - Raymond Kethledge and Thomas Hardiman.

LAT: So Judge Kethledge is a judge of the 6th Circuit. He is based in Michigan. He's been on that court for about a decade. He is, in some ways, very similar to Judge Kavanaugh. He also has a great reputation and as a former law clerk to Justice Kennedy - around the same age. He's 51. Judge Kavanaugh's 53 - also quite conservative and young and has a great resume. He, in some ways, could be almost like a lower risk - you could argue for conservatives a lower award perhaps than Judge Kavanaugh, in the sense that he doesn't have as much in his background that would be quite as controversial. But he's also less of a known quantity to legal conservatives in D.C.

WERTHEIMER: So what about Hardiman?

LAT: Judge Hardiman is a judge on the 3rd Circuit. He is based in Pittsburgh. He is actually, interestingly enough, a longtime colleague on the 3rd Circuit with Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who happens to be Donald Trump's older sister. He also has a great resume, a strong background. He was a trial court judge before he joined the appeals court. And he was the runner-up for the Supreme Court seat that went to Justice Gorsuch.

WERTHEIMER: OK. Who's your pick?

LAT: So if I had to guess, I would say that it will be either Judge Kavanaugh or Judge Kethledge, which is basically a position I have taken since Justice Kennedy announced his retirement. As between the two of them, it's very difficult to tell. And it's quite possible the president has made a decision and then will change his mind at the last minute. But it's looking like those two - one of those two, I would say.

WERTHEIMER: OK, Mr. David Lat of Above The Law. Thank you very much.

LAT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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