Heading into Monday night’s U.S. Supreme Court nomination announcement, a Texas Woman’s University political science professor said the Trump administration may be looking at Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation for a “blueprint” on having another successful confirmation.
“It seems like pretty much everybody involved with conservatives viewed President Donald Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch as a shining moment [in his presidency],” said Parker Hevron, a government professor at TWU.
Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh, a judge for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as his nominee Monday night.
Kavanaugh has served on the D.C. Circuit court since 2006 and is a former clerk for the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Before Monday’s announcement, Hevron viewed Kavanaugh as the likely frontrunner but said his association with the Bushes may have “hurt [him] a little bit.”
“Despite having pretty impeccable conservative credentials, he seems to be getting backlash from Trump’s inner circle — in particular, working in George W. Bush’s and George H.W. Bush’s administrations and [having] the backing of Jeb Bush,” Hevron said. “There is no love lost between the Trumps and Bushes.”
Kimi Lynn King, a political science professor at the University of North Texas, said Monday afternoon that Kavanaugh “would be the obvious choice,” but his connection with President Bill Clinton’s impeachment causes concern.
Kavanaugh’s opinion on the case said Clinton should be impeached for lying to his staff and misleading the public.
“If Trump is concerned about a court case making it to the Supreme Court, what Kavanaugh may do in his case may be complicated,” King said.
During his term on the Supreme Court, Kennedy was the swing vote in a few decisions. Trump’s nominee will give conservatives a true majority, which makes this next appointment crucial for the Republican Party.
“[Kennedy] famously wrote the opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges and United States v. Windsor, which essentially served to legalize gay marriage,” Hevron said. “But on many other issues such as redistricting, he was still a reliable conservative vote.”
However, this does not mean a swing judge is not possible. With Kennedy leaving, Hevron said if there were to be a new swing vote, it would be Chief Justice John Roberts.
“He shows some willingness to go outside the conservative party lines with some of his decisions, famously upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare,” Hevron said, referring to the Affordable Care Act, which allowed low-income Americans easier access to health insurance. “That really opened him up to the criticism of the political right.”
Hevron said Trump could also potentially end up nominating a judge who later becomes the swing vote, citing the appointments by President George H.W. Bush and President Dwight D. Eisenhower of Associate Justice David Souter and former Chief Justice Earl Warren, respectively, who voted liberal in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Brown v. Board of Education, respectively.
Kennedy’s retirement also sparked the question of Roe v. Wade being overturned after a new justice has been confirmed.
“The concerns you’re going to see are those concerned with abortion and LGBTQ rights,” King said.
No matter who the nomination is, Hevron said there is not much Democrats in Congress can do.
“At this point, given the sheer brute politics in the Senate, there’s very little Democrats could do to keep this confirmation from happening,” Hevron said. “We may just be entering a period where the [Supreme] Court is polarized.”