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A Look At Some Of The Most Likely Picks To Replace Justice Anthony Kennedy


The White House says tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern, President Trump will introduce the world to the person he wants to serve a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. Democrats and Republicans have mobilized for a fight that will cost millions of dollars and perhaps impact the midterm elections in November. Whoever replaces retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy will likely influence the court for decades.

NPR's Nina Totenberg has covered the confirmation fight for every current Supreme Court justice, and she is here with us to discuss the latest. Hi, Nina.


SHAPIRO: So what's going to happen tonight?

TOTENBERG: I haven't really a clue.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

TOTENBERG: And I am astonished that even top people very closely connected to this process both inside the administration and outside the administration do not appear to know. I mean, I'm sure somebody knows. A couple of them know because they have to move people around to get them in place, unless of course it's Brett Kavanaugh, who's here in Washington.

SHAPIRO: In Washington, D.C., already.

TOTENBERG: And that doesn't take a lot of movement. But everybody else - nobody seems to really - we haven't had the authorized leak yet (laughter).

SHAPIRO: What does that tell you - because with other Supreme Court nominations, at this point, there would have been some murmurings of who it's going to be.

TOTENBERG: Well, you know, in the last one, Gorsuch, we certainly thought that it was going to be him, but we couldn't confirm it. And this one, I'm not sure if the president is just playing with us in the press corps and the public or if he's playing with his aides, too, or he really hasn't or hadn't made up his mind.

SHAPIRO: This is a president who has now been in office a year and a half. He's become more confident in his own...


SHAPIRO: ...Instincts, and he's made choices in the past that have defied advisers.

TOTENBERG: You know, if you look at this last time, he was a newbie president - brand new - and he had a nomination to the Supreme Court. He'd made lots of promises to his base. But he really didn't know how to pick a Supreme Court justice, and they didn't have much of a staff in place. And they outsourced it to The Federalist Society, and it went very smoothly.

My sense is that this time, he is much more personally involved, much more sort of saying, I can pick this person; I don't need aides to tell me who might be the best on this or the best on that. And when he said, I can't lose with any of these people, he means he can't lose with any of these people. The one person I think has had some influence on him is the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who is very anxious to get this done.

SHAPIRO: Let's run through the four people who we believe are the finalists. You mentioned Judge Brett Kavanaugh. He's on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

TOTENBERG: With a long track record, he's been on the court for 12 years, served in many capacities, very important capacities in the George W. Bush White House and for that reason is viewed with some skepticism apparently by President Trump.

Then also on the list on the other end of the not-so-establishment person is Amy Coney Barrett, a former Antonin Scalia law clerk, Notre Dame law professor who serves on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. But she's something of a lightning rod because she has openly questioned Roe versus Wade, the Supreme Court's abortion decision. On the other hand, she's got huge backing on the right for obvious reasons.

Then there's the so-called compromise candidate Raymond Kethledge, who serves on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Michigan - also very conservative, very likable apparently. And my guess is he did well with the president in his interview.

And lastly - Thomas Hardiman, who was the runner-up last time, or so we think, of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. That is the appeals court on which the president's sister Maryanne Trump Barry served until his election. And she's apparently put in more than a good word for Hardiman.

SHAPIRO: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, who will be covering this confirmation battle - thanks, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And many stations will have live coverage of the president's announcement at 9 p.m. Eastern tonight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
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