Trump close to naming nominee for Supreme Court

The American flag flies at half-staff in front of the Supreme Court, across the street from the Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, District of Columbia, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia's death. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer

President Donald Trump has narrowed his choices for the Supreme Court, consulted with congressional leaders and says he will announce a nominee next week.

Trump has said he will choose from a list of 21 possibilities released during the campaign, and sources involved in the process say a handful of federal appeals court judges have emerged at the top: William Pryor of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, Neil Gorsuch of the 10th Circuit in Denver, Thomas Hardiman of the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia and Raymond Kethledge of the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati.

“We have outstanding candidates,” Trump said in the Oval Office on Tuesday, adding that he would make a decision this week and announce it next week. “We’ll pick a truly great Supreme Court justice.”

Trump previously said he had an idea of whom he would pick but had not made a final decision.

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Democrats and liberal groups are preparing for a fight, no matter Trump’s choice. They believe that the seat should have been filled by former President Barack Obama, who nominated Judge Merrick Garland. But the Republican-led Senate refused to hold hearings on Garland and said the vacancy should be left to the next president.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said after a meeting Tuesdaywith Trump and Senate leaders that he told the president that “Senate Democrats would fight any nominee that was outside of the mainstream.”

He said in a brief interview that specific potential nominees were not discussed.

Schumer had previously told CNN that “it’s hard for me to imagine a nominee that Donald Trump would choose that would get Republican support, that we could support.”

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One candidate on the shortlist that probably would not meet Schumer’s test is the one Trump has specifically mentioned.

That is Pryor, 54, a protege of Trump’s choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions. Pryor followed Sessions as Alabama’s attorney general and had a contentious Senate confirmation after President George W. Bush nominated him to the bench. Bush eventually made him a rare recess appointment in 2004, and he was finally confirmed by the Senate as part of a compromise deal.

Pryor thrilled supporters at his hearing by not backing away from a previous observation that the Roe v. Wade decision was a constitutional “abomination.” His past comments on gay rights and stalwart support of the death penalty have made him the nominee that liberal groups say they would most fiercely oppose.

He has long been considered the front-runner for the job but lately has drawn fire from some staunch conservatives. Several groups have objected to a decision he joined that upheld the right of a transgender woman to sue over being fired. The appeals court panel based its decision on Supreme Court precedent, but conservative groups said Pryor’s decision was unwarranted.

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John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation, one of the groups that supplied Trump with names of potential nominees, defended Pryor in the National Review. Criticism of the judge from the left was expected, Malcolm wrote, but the attack from the right “is a strange development.”

Gorsuch, 49, would not bring the outsider credentials represented by others on Trump’s list. His mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President Ronald Reagan, and he was raised in Washington, D.C.. His résumé includes Columbia University, Oxford and Harvard Law.

He is seen as a reliable conservative, with a reputation for clear and lucid writing. His law clerks regularly move on to the Supreme Court – not just for conservative justices but also for liberals such as Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Gorsuch is an originalist, like Scalia, meaning he attempts to interpret the words of the Constitution as they were understood at the time they were written. He is protective of religious rights and found that they could be infringed by requirements of the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide contraceptive services.

Hardiman, 51, has more of the backstory Trump might find appealing. He was the first in his family to go to college, and for a time, he drove a taxi to finance his education at Notre Dame and Georgetown University Law Center. He is a lifelong Republican who married into a Pennsylvania family with prominent Democratic roots.

Hardiman serves on the 3rd Circuit with Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry. Conservatives praise his record on gun rights – he dissented from a decision that upheld New Jersey’s restrictive law on who may receive a permit to carry a gun. The Supreme Court declined to review the decision.

But the justices on a 5-to-4 vote upheld one of his decisions that said jails were justified in strip searches for those being committed, no matter the seriousness of the charge.

Kethledge, 51, is less well-known than the others but is said to have support among senators. He is a University of Michigan graduate who, like Gorsuch, clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy. His nomination was opposed by Michigan’s Democratic senators, but he was confirmed in 2008 as a result of a compromise deal in the Senate.

A Wall Street Journal editorial bestowed “opinion of the year” on a 2014 ruling against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency had brought an action against Kaplan Higher Education Corp. alleging discrimination, but Kethledge shot down the testimony of an expert the EEOC had relied upon.

He also ruled for a group called the NorCal Tea Party Patriotsin a class-action case the group had filed against the Internal Revenue Service alleging that conservative groups had been targeted.

The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.