President Donald Trump announced on Monday evening that he would nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be a Supreme Court justice, setting up a major confirmation battle in the Senate as Trump moves to dramatically reshape the court.
The nomination comes less than two weeks after Justice Anthony Kennedy, long a swing-vote on the deeply divided court, announced his retirement, handing Trump the second vacancy of his presidency.
Kavanaugh, 53, has served on the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since 2006. A former Kennedy clerk and aide to President George W. Bush, Kavanaugh is widely revered in conservative legal circles.
He also worked for independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose investigation led to the eventual impeachment of President Bill Clinton. In a point sure to be brought up by Democrats, Kavanaugh was a lead author of the controversial Starr report.
“What matters is not a judge’s political views but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and the Constitution require,” Trump said in announcing his pick. “Tonight it is my honor and privilege to announce that I will nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.”
Sebastian Gorka and Gregg Jarrett react to nomination,
Kavanaugh was greeted by sustained applause.
“They do not stand and give applause like that very often,” Trump quipped.
He went on to hail Kavanaugh, praising his “impeccable credentials,” dedication to “equal justice under the law,” and calling him “one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time.”
“There is no one in America more qualified for this position and no one more deserving,” Trump declared.
Kavanaugh, who was joined at the ceremony by his wife Ashley and two daughters, struck a grateful and deferential tone.
“Throughout this process I’ve witnesses firsthand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary,” Kavanaugh said, complimenting Trump for consulting a wide range of advisers as he made the decision. “Mr. President, I am grateful to you and I am humbled by your confidence in me.”
“My judicial philosophy is straightforward: A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law,” he declared. “A judge must interpret statues as written and a judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent.”
Kavanaugh also sought, at times, to strike a non-partisan tone.
Speaking of his colleagues on the D.C. Circuit Court, he called each “a friend,” and declared he was grateful to the Harvard dean who hired him: Justice Elena Kagan.
He added that his law clerks “come from diverse backgrounds and points of view,” and noted that more than half have been women.
The night was one of near-jubilant celebration for Republicans, a moment of ringing unity even as some within the party remain deeply uncomfortable with Trump.
Kavanaugh was seen as safe choice for Trump. He has the traditional resume of a Supreme Court Justice – a Yale law degree, a Supreme Court clerkship under Kennedy, more than a decade on the Circuit Court – and he is well-regarded in academic and political circles.
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