WASHINGTON — President Trump announced federal appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court Monday night.
The federal appeals court judge survived a tough Senate confirmation battle once and helped investigate former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
If confirmed, the 53-year-old Judge Kavanaugh would succeed conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27 at age 81.
“Throughout legal circles he’s considered a judge’s judge, a true thought leader among his peers,” Mr. Trump told the audience in the White House East Room.
“He’s a brilliant jurist with a clear and effective writing style, universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time. And just like Justice [Neil] Gorsuch, he excelled as a legal clerk for Justice Kennedy,” the President said.
Mr. Trump nominated Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court last year.
Judge Kavanaugh has amassed a solidly conservative judicial record since 2006 on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the same court where three current justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, have served.
“A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written and a judge must interpret the constitution as written,” Judge Kavanaugh said during the ceremony.
He underscored his ties to his family and his Roman Catholic faith.
Judge Kavanaugh was a senior White House official under Republican former President George W. Bush before Mr. Bush nominated him to the appeals court in 2003.
Some Democrats accused him of excessive partisanship, and it took three years before the Senate eventually voted to confirm him.
Judge Kavanaugh worked for Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel whose investigation of Mr. Clinton helped spur an effort by congressional Republicans in 1998 and 1999 to impeach the Democrat and remove him from office.
Judge Kavanaugh in 2009 changed his tune on the Starr probe, arguing that presidents should be free from civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions, and investigations while in office.
Mr. Trump defeated Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats in the past also have pointed to Judge Kavanaugh’s work for Mr. Bush during the recount fight in the key state of Florida in the 2000 presidential election.
The nominee — if confirmed — will not change the ideological breakdown of a court that already has a 5-4 conservative majority, but nevertheless could move the court to the right.
Justice Kennedy sometimes joined the liberal justices on key rulings on divisive social issues like abortion and gay rights, something his replacement may not duplicate.
Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, though with ailing Sen. John McCain battling cancer in his home state of Arizona they can muster only 50 votes.
Hours before the announcement, the White House named former senator Jon Kyl of Arizona as the “sherpa” who will guide the nominee through the Senate.
Mr. Kyl is a Republican who rose to the No. 2 spot in the Senate before he retired in 2013.
He is a veteran of Supreme Court confirmation battles, having served on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmations of four of the last five justices to join the court.
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