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President Donald Trump has picked Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge with extensive legal credentials and a lengthy political record, to succeed Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court.
"Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials," Trump said, shortly after announcing his choice Monday night. "Throughout legal circles, he is considered a true judge's judge."
Kavanaugh, 53, is an ideological conservative who is expected to push the court to the right on a number of issues including business regulation and national security. The favorite of White House Counsel Donald McGahn, Kavanaugh is also considered a safer pick than some of the more partisan choices who were on the president’s shortlist. Trump called him one of the "sharpest legal minds of our time."
"There is no one more qualified for this position, and no one more deserving," Trump said, calling for "robust bipartisan support" and a "swift" confirmation in the Senate.
In accepting his nomination Monday night, Kavanaugh praised Kennedy as well as his parents. HIs father was a lawyer, and his mother was a judge.
In his remarks, the Supreme Court nominee said he would rigorously interpret the Constitution as written. He called an independent judiciary "the crown jewel of our republic."
"A judge must interpret the law, not make the law," Kavanaugh added.
A graduate of Yale Law School who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh has the traditional trappings of a presidential nominee to the high court.
If confirmed, the appellate judge would become the second young, conservative jurist Trump has put on the top U.S. court during his first term. Kavanaugh's confirmation would give the president an even bigger role in shaping U.S. policy for decades to come. The potential to morph the federal judiciary led many conservatives to support Trump in 2016, and he has not disappointed so far with the confirmation of conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and numerous federal judges.
Kavanaugh faces a tough confirmation fight in a narrowly divided Senate. He said he will start to meet with senators on Tuesday.
As Trump chose Kavanaugh, conservative interest groups announced big pockets of spending to boost his confirmation. The Judicial Crisis Network said it would put $1.4 million into ads in Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia — red states represented by Democratic Sens. Doug Jones, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin, respectively. All of those lawmakers but Jones face re-election this year in states Trump won handily in 2016.
Americans for Prosperity, an interest group backed by the billionaire Koch Brothers, also said it would launch a seven-figure ad buy in several states Trump carried which have Democratic senators up for re-election this year. Those include states in which the president won big such as Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri and Montana, as well as areas he won more narrowly such as Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
At times, Kavanaugh has diverged from the Republican party’s ideological line on important cases that have come before him, including on the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care law which Kavanaugh has declined to strike down on a number of occasions in which it has come before him.
Anti-abortion groups quietly lobbied against Kavanaugh, pushing instead for another jurist on Trump’s shortlist, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett, ABC News reported in the run-up to Trump’s announcement.
Kavanaugh received his current appointment in 2006 after five years in the George W. Bush administration, where he served in a number of roles including staff secretary to the president. He has been criticized for his attachment to Bush, as well as his involvement in a number of high-profile legal cases.
For instance, Kavanaugh led the investigation into the death of Bill Clinton’s Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, and assisted in Kenneth Starr’s 1998 report outlining the case for Clinton’s impeachment.
Democrats criticized Kavanaugh’s political roles during his 2006 confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Your experience has been most notable, not so much for your blue chip credentials, but for the undeniably political nature of so many of your assignments,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at the time.
“From the notorious Starr report, to the Florida recount, to the President’s secrecy and privilege claims, to post-9/11 legislative battles including the Victims Compensation Fund, to ideological judicial nomination fights, if there has been a partisan political fight that needed a very bright legal foot soldier in the last decade, Brett Kavanaugh was probably there,” Schumer said.
Kavanaugh's work on the Starr report has been scrutinized by Republicans who have said it could pose trouble for the president as he negotiates with special counsel Robert Mueller over the terms of a possible interview related to Mueller's Russia probe. The 1998 document found that Clinton's multiple refusals to testify to a grand jury in connection with Starr's investigation were grounds for impeachment.
In later years, Kavanaugh said that Clinton should not have had to face down an investigation during his presidency. He has said the indictment of a president would not serve the public interest.
Like Trump's first nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh clerked for Kennedy. If he is confirmed, it will mark the first time ever that a current or former Supreme Court justice has two former clerks become justices, according to an article by Adam Feldman, who writes a blog about the Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh teaches courses on the separation of powers, the Supreme Court, and national security at Harvard Law School and Yale Law School, and does charitable work at St. Maria’s Meals program at Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., according to his official biography.