Trump Narrows List Of Supreme Court Justice Nominees
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
President Trump has whittled down his short list of Supreme Court nominees to fill the seat that's going to be vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He's expected to announce his final pick next Monday. To learn more about the people on that list, we're joined by NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Hey, Nina.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there.
CHANG: So I know you've been doing a lot of reporting into who is on this list. What can you tell us now?
TOTENBERG: So it looks to me from my reporting as if the final two, maybe three are Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who's 53 years old and who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and has a lengthy record, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was appointed by President Trump to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and has been on that court for I think a year or less - and she very much has the support of religious conservatives, but she has a relatively tiny record - and, third, Raymond Kethledge of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, another Republican judge with sort of a record of a number of years.
CHANG: All right, so and then there were three. Let us dig into some of these names. Let's go and start with Brett Kavanaugh. Can you tell us a little more about him, his jurisprudence?
TOTENBERG: Well, he actually clerked on the Supreme Court for the man he would replace, Anthony Kennedy. He was named to the D.C. Circuit by George W. Bush in 2003, but his confirmation was stalled by Democrats for nearly three years...
TOTENBERG: ...Because they said he was too partisan, too young and too inexperienced. He was eventually confirmed and, as I said, has had a distinguished record, very conservative record on the D.C. Circuit but often doesn't go quite as far as some conservatives would like.
CHANG: OK, so that is Brett Kavanaugh. What can you tell us about Amy Barrett?
TOTENBERG: Well, Amy Barrett has a long written record as a professor at Notre Dame Law School. She is loved by the social conservative wing of the party. And at her confirmation hearing, her nomination became a lightning rod for everybody. Senator Dianne Feinstein said to her, look; if you're on this list of potential Supreme Court nominees, I think you're there - it's obvious - because you would overturn Roe v. Wade. And this is what Amy Barrett said in response to that.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
AMY BARRETT: I'm being considered for a position on a court of appeals, and there would be no opportunity to be a no vote on Roe. And as I said to the committee...
DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well...
BARRETT: ...I would faithfully apply all Supreme Court precedent.
TOTENBERG: Of course there is no - if you're on the Supreme Court, you don't have to apply precedent.
TOTENBERG: That's not...
CHANG: You get to determine it.
TOTENBERG: That's not what you're supposed to do. You're - you determine it. You're capable of overturning it. But Feinstein also said something that really got particularly Catholics infuriated, and here's what she said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
FEINSTEIN: When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you.
TOTENBERG: Now, that word dogma...
TOTENBERG: ...Means you're unmovable. And it suggested to many that Judge Barrett would not be able to rule against her private desires, her private religious beliefs. And the word dogma - the whole statement has become something of a joyous refrain among conservatives. There are T-shirts that say the dogma lives within me.
CHANG: Oh, it's a whole meme now, OK.
CHANG: So it sounds like Kavanaugh and Barrett represent sort of a divide within the Republican Party between social conservatives and maybe more establishment Republicans. How would you describe this divide, this fight that's going on between those two potential nominees?
TOTENBERG: I would describe this as a reflection of the Republican Party. I'm not sure that there's a dime's worth of difference between Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett, but their supporters, particularly the supporters of social conservatives - they just think she's one of them and that he's somehow a Washington insider.
One of the people I know who knows both Kavanaugh and Barrett and loves them both and is very conflicted said - I said, how do you explain this internal war that seems to be going on? He said, it's a color war. You know, you get assigned a color in camp, and it's a color war.
CHANG: Well, if they can't decide between those two, it sounds like the last name at least on this short list is Raymond Kethledge. He's on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, as you mentioned. He's from Michigan.
TOTENBERG: And he is the only non-Catholic on this short list...
TOTENBERG: ...Of six or eight people that the president by and large has talked to in person. He's an evangelical. I would say that his written record is not as extensive. But my sense today was that even that - a lot of the people who are pushing for Judge Barrett will really be perfectly happy to vote for Judge Kavanaugh. The only question is whether out there in the hinterlands, this can get to be a battle cry of some kind. And I'm not sure that there's enough time for that to happen.
CHANG: All right, that's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thank you, Nina.
TOTENBERG: Thank you.
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