US President Donald Trump on Monday nominated consistently conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh, to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, in a move that will likely shape the top judicial body for years to come.
The confirmation process for the 53-year-old graduate of the prestigious Yale University could be a battle in the Senate, where Trump’s conservative right-wing Republican Party holds a slim majority.
“There is no one in America more qualified for this position and no one more deserving,” Trump said, adding that Kavanaugh “deserves a swift confirmation.”
The president called on members of both parties to confirm his nominee, whom he praised lavishly as “a judge’s judge and a true thought leader among his peers.”
Trump is seeking to push through the nomination in the coming period, before the country heads to mid-term elections in November, which could alter the makeup of Congress.
Chuck Schumer, the leader of the opposition left-leaning Democrats in the Senate, was quick to denounce Trump’s pick, saying Kavanaugh was selected by right-wing special interest groups as someone who would seek to erode women’s rights on abortion.
“In selecting Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, President Trump has put reproductive rights and freedoms and health care protections for millions of Americans on the judicial chopping block,” Schumer said, warning the selection would also be a negative for “working families.”
Kavanaugh “has impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law,” Trump said Monday from the White House’s East Room.
The president had hyped the announcement for weeks, since Justice Anthony Kennedy said he would step down at the end of July.
Kavanaugh, seen as a Washington insider, made brief remarks after the president, in which he paid tribute to his parents – his mother was a judge – and his family. He also noted his Catholic faith and commitment to his religious community, including charity work.
“A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law, must interpret statutes as written and must interpret the constitution as written, informed by history, tradition and precedent,” Kavanaugh said in laying out his legal worldview.
He said he would meet senators in the coming period and described an independent judiciary as “the crown jewel” of the republic.
“I will keep an open mind in every case,” he vowed, in words that were likely directed at those who will vote on his confirmation.
Kavanaugh has a conservative track record on gun rights, regulation and religious freedoms.
He has a relatively long history of legal opinions, and has been vetted by leading conservative interest groups and largely has their support.
He is seen as an originalist, in the sense of a jurist who focuses on handing down judgements based on the written words of the constitution, as his statements at the White House indicated.
A key issue for many liberal senators will be his views on abortion, amid concerns of an erosion of a woman’s right to choose, in what is seen as a benchmark of how the court could shift.
Kavanaugh’s role in the 1990s, working for the independent counsel Kenneth W Starr who led a legal process to impeach then-president Bill Clinton, will also likely come up during his hearings before the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress.
The matter will likely be closely watched as Trump and members of his team are tied up in investigations, including the Russia’s election meddling in 2016.
Kennedy, who Kavanaugh was nominated to replace, was appointed by Ronald Reagan, a right-wing and conservative Republican like Trump.
However, Kennedy was seen as a swing vote, who leaned towards libertarianism on personal freedoms, including gay rights.
On other matters, he remained a conservative. Often, major cases involving societal issues were decided with a 5-4 majority in recent sessions of the nation’s top judicial organ.
The Supreme Court is both country’s highest appeals court and its top constitutional court. Judges serve for life or until they choose to leave.
Trump has already appointed one judge, a conservative, in his first year in office. He may yet get another chance, if another of the ageing judges were to step down from the bench for any reason.