One week before President Donald Trump is set to announce his nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court, the names of potential candidates are emerging.
Trump met with four candidates for 45 minutes each on Monday, and will continue meeting with other candidates throughout the week. According to a report from the Associated Press, all four candidates are current federal appeals court judges: Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar.
Trump has indicated that he will nominate someone from a list of 25 people, all of whom were approved by conservative legal organizations. He introduced the first iteration of the list during his 2016 presidential campaign to garner the support of potential Republican voters. Exit polls indicated that the list succeeded, with a majority of Trump voters reporting that Supreme Court appointments were the most important factor in their their voting decision.
Kennedy’s retirement gives Trump the opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court – and the nation – long after his presidency ends. Trump plans to announce his pick on Monday — part of an accelerated timeline to confirm a justice before the November elections. He recently announced that he’s narrowed down his search to “about five people,” including two women.
Trump said after the meetings that “they are outstanding people. They are really incredible people in so many different ways, academically and in every other way. I had a very, very, interesting morning.”
Kennedy was a swing vote on many crucial issues, including abortion and the legalization of gay marriage. Supporters on both sides of the abortion debate have said that Trump’s pick, his second Supreme Court appointee, will be pivotal to the future of abortion rights and Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide.
Below is what we know about the Supreme Court candidates that Trump has interviewed:
Amy Coney Barrett
Amy Coney Barrett, 46, would be the youngest Supreme Court justice on the bench. After graduating magna cum laude from Rhodes College, she went on to attend Notre Dame Law School and became the executive editor of the Notre Dame Law Review. She then clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who had a reputation for being a strict constructionist, before becoming a professor at the Notre Dame Law School. In 2017, she was confirmed as Trump’s nominee to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit by a Senate vote of 55-43. Three Democratic Senators crossed party lines to vote for her: Joe Donnelly, Tim Kaine, and Joe Manchin. Her confirmation was opposed by 17 women’s rights groups and 27 LGBT groups.
During Barrett’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Dianne Feinstein famously said that “You have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail” and “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Other Democrats raised concerns that Barrett’s legal decisions could be influenced by her religious convictions. Barrett told Senators that she is a faithful Catholic, but stated that “it is never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they arise from faith or anywhere else, on the law.”
A 1988 scholarly article that Barrett co-wrote argued that judges “cannot — nor should they try to — align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge.” In such circumstances, like cases that involve capital punishment, her article says that Catholic judges should consider recusing themselves. However, she backed down from that position in her confirmation hearing, saying, “I cannot think of any cases or category of cases, including capital cases, in which I would feel obliged to recuse on grounds of conscience if confirmed as a judge on the Seventh Circuit.”
However, Barrett has publicly expressed her willingness to overturn precedent, which some critics believe would extend to Roe v. Wade. In a 2003 publication, she argued that strict adherence to precedent “on occasion, slides into unconstitutionality.” And, in a 2015 article, she added that only “superprecedents,” the Court’s biggest landmark cases, should be exempt from being overturned. She argued in the article’s footnotes that scholars do not put Roe on the superprecedent list.
Barrett has written extensively about Constitutional originalism, a legal tradition that advocates for an interpretation of the Constitution based on the meaning it would have had at the time it was written. She has also spoken against the Supreme Court’s Miranda decision, which requires police to inform detainees of their right to remain silent and their right to a lawyer. She called it an example of “the court’s choice to overenforce a constitutional norm.”
Brett Kavanaugh earned both his undergraduate education and law degree from Yale University. At 53, he is the oldest candidate that Trump has interviewed, although he would still be the second-youngest justice on the Supreme Court. He clerked for Kennedy and reportedly remains close to the justice. Some have speculated that Kavanaugh’s position on Trump’s shortlist made Kennedy more inclined to retire.
Kavanaugh worked for President George W. Bush’s Administration as an Associate Counsel and Staff Secretary. He also participated in Kenneth Starr’s investigation into President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. He later wrote that he regretted participating, because he thinks presidents should be exempt from “time-consuming and distracting lawsuits.”
Kavanaugh was tapped by Bush for the D.C. Circuit Court in 2003, but Democrats stalled is appointment for 3 years, arguing that he was too partisan. Sen. Chuck Schumer said, “Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination… is not just a drop of salt in the partisan wounds, it is the whole shaker.” Kavanaugh disagreed, saying “I firmly disagree with the notion that there are Republican judges and [Democratic] judges. There is one kind of judge. There is an independent judge under our Constitution.” Only four Democrats voted to confirm him.
Kavanaugh has historically applied principles of textualism – judging cases by the strict meaning of the law as-written – and originalism to cases. He’s often concerned with preserving the government’s separation of powers in his decisions. In a variety of cases, he has historically ruled in favor of large business, including telecommunication companies, insurance companies, cable companies, and the auto industry.
In one of his notable decisions, Kavanaugh voted to reject a Washington, D.C.’s ban on assault weapons. He wrote a dissent based on the logic of Heller v. District of Columbia, stating that courts should assess gun regulations “based on text, history and tradition.” In 2012, he also authored an opinion to uphold a South Carolina voter ID law, which critics argued could disenfranchise voters.
Recently, he also dissented when the D.C. Circuit required the U.S. government to allow an abortion for a 17-year-old illegal immigrant; he blocked the abortion for 10 days until his ruling was overturned. He wrote that his colleagues were creating a “new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain abortion on demand.”
Raymond Kethledge, age 51, received both his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Michigan, where he graduated magna cum laude and second in his law school class. He clerked for Kennedy for a year before practicing at a number of private law firms. In 2006, he was nominated by Bush to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. His appointment was stalled for more than a year due to opposition from Michigan’s two Democratic Senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. Eventually, the Bush Administration struck a deal to nominate a Democratic state judge in exchange for Kethledge’s confirmation.
During his confirmation hearing, when asked whether he saw the Constitution as a living document or an originalist text, he said “I don’t really have a label.” He also established that “first and foremost, I would follow Supreme Court precedent.”
In one of his most prominent cases, Kethledge argued that credit checks for job applicants were “racially blind.” He wrote an opinion striking down the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s attempt to limit private employers’ ability to check the credit history of their job applicants. The EEOC argued that the practice amounted to racial discrimination, but Kethledge accused the agency of employing a similar background check.
In 2017 case, Kethledge authored an opinion against the Obama Administration, denouncing their “continuous resistance” to investigating the IRS’s unfair treatment toward a Tea Party group.
Kethledge has also interpreted the First Amendment to include spending, similar to the controversial 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In one ruling he allowed prosecutor candidates to accept campaign contributions from Medicaid providers.
Amal Thapar, 49, graduated from Boston College and the University of California-Berkeley Law School. After a series of clerkships and employment at private firms, Thapar became the District Court Judge for Eastern Kentucky. Last spring, Trump tapped him to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Thapar was the first Indian American judge to serve on the federal judiciary. He was confirmed by the Senate in a 52-44 vote, with all Democrats voting against him. He is reportedly Mitch McConnell’s favorite pick; McConnell called him “absolutely brilliant, with the right temperament.”
Thapar supports textualism, although he acknowledges that it’s “hard.” In a discussion at the University of Virginia Law School, Thapar reportedly said that “it is not the responsibility of the judiciary to amend poor legislative drafting, even if judges would personally prefer a different outcome than what is required by a statute’s text.”
One of Thapar’s most well-known rulings was in United States v. Walli, a case about three anti-nuclear activists who trespassed on, and damaged, federal government property. He sentenced two of the defendants to five years in prison and the third, an 85-year-old nun, to a 35 month prison term. The conviction was later overturned by the 6th Circuit, which sent the case back to a lower court for re-sentencing.
In a decision about a same-sex sexual harassment case, Thapar controversially claimed that that the plaintiff had to provide “credible evidence that the harasser was homosexual.” He concluded that the worker didn’t properly show that he was harassed on account of his gender.