The nomination, if confirmed by the Senate, would set the court on a more conservative course for decades to come
Donald Trump has named Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee for the US supreme court, lighting the fuse of an acrimonious political battle and potentially setting the court on a more conservative course for decades to come.
The selection of the federal appeals court judge was the cue for euphoria on the right and confirmed many progressive fears. If rubber-stamped by the Senate, it would represent one of the most consequential decisions of Trumps presidency.
Kavanaughs record will come under particular scrutiny for clues as to how he might vote in any future review of Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed a womans right to an abortion. Last year, Kavanaugh decided against a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant in federal custody who sought to immediately terminate her pregnancy, though he was overruled by colleagues.
As a special counsel investigation into Trumps alleged collusion with Russia continues, Kavanaugh could also be the deciding vote in whether a criminal prosecution goes forward. He is likely to be questioned about his past assertions that a sitting president should be protected from indictment.
In a 2009 article, Kavanaugh wrote: A serious constitutional question exists regarding whether a president can be criminally indicted and tried while in office.
He also opined that indictment and trial of a sitting president would cripple the federal government, rendering it unable to function with credibility in either the international or domestic arena and that even the lesser burdens of a criminal investigation are time consuming and distracting.
Trumps pick comes less than two weeks after Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote in the courts rulings, announced his retirement, and 18 months after he won plaudits from conservatives for appointing Neil Gorsuch to the court.
The announcement was made with fanfare in the east room of the White House with Trumps wife, Melania, Vice-President Mike Pence and numerous senators in attendance. A day of feverish speculation among journalists and across social media came to an end with a few simple words.
Tonight, it is my honour and privilege to announce that I will nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States supreme court, Trump said. There was prolonged applause as Kavanaugh entered the room with his wife, Ashley, and daughters, Margaret and Liza, with whom he lives in Maryland.
Throughout legal circles, he is considered a judges judge a true thought leader among his peers, Trump said. He is a brilliant jurist, with a clear and effective writing style, universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time.
The president added: There is no one in America more qualified for this position, and no one more deserving.
Appearing self-confident at the podium, Kavanaugh, 53, described himself as humbled and deeply honoured by the elevation. He told Trump: Throughout this process, Ive witnessed first-hand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary. No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a supreme court nomination.
Kavanaugh, careful to avoid any hint of ideology, added: My judicial philosophy is straightforward. 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, informed by history and tradition and precedent.
The Yale graduate has served as a judge on the US court of appeals for the DC circuit since 2006, authoring more than 300 opinions, including 11 that have been affirmed by the supreme court. Before becoming a judge, he worked as a White House lawyer for President George W Bush, clerked for Justice Kennedy and was an attorney for the office of the solicitor general.
Bush said in a statement: Brett is a brilliant jurist who has faithfully applied the constitution and laws throughout his 12 years on the DC circuit. He is a fine husband, father, and friend and a man of the highest integrity.
Within minutes of the announcement, a political showdown was under way along sharply partisan lines. Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate, said: President Trump has made a superb choice Judge Kavanaugh has sterling academic credentials. He is widely admired for his intellect, experience, and exemplary judicial temperament.
Leonard Leo, a key adviser to Trump on supreme court nominations, said: Brett Kavanaugh is among the most distinguished and respected judges in the country, with nearly 300 opinions that clearly demonstrate fairness and a commitment to interpreting the constitution as its written, and enforcing the limits on government power contained in the constitution.
And Jeanne Mancini, president of the anti-abortion organisation March for Life, said: He is exceptionally qualified for the role and will no doubt serve as a fair, independent judge who will remain faithful to the constitution.
But there was a chorus of alarm and condemnation from Democrats and progressive groups, who organized a boisterous protest outside the supreme court on Monday night. They believe Kavanaugh will be significantly more conservative than Kennedy on issues such as abortion.
Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, said: In selecting Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the supreme court, President Trump has put reproductive rights and freedoms and healthcare protections for millions of Americans on the judicial chopping block I will oppose Judge Kavanaughs nomination with everything I have.
Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House, said: Judge Kavanaughs long history of opposition to the full, fundamental right of every woman to make her own decisions about her body, family and healthcare poses a grave threat to womens rights and to our founders promise of liberty and justice for all.
And Kamala Harris, senator for California and seen as a 2020 presidential hopeful, argued: Judge Kavanaugh has consistently proven to be a conservative ideologue instead of a mainstream jurist. As recently as last year, he disregarded supreme court precedent and opposed the healthcare rights of a vulnerable young woman. That ruling was overturned by a sitting of all the judges on his court.
The Womens March organisation said in a statement: Trumps announcement today is a death sentence for thousands of women in the United States. Judge Brett Kavanaughs nomination threatens to move our nations highest court dangerously to the right and further erodes protections for almost every marginalized group in America.
Trump is following through on his most threatening campaign promises: the Muslim ban. The crackdown on immigration. Now, overturning Roe v Wade.
Kavanaugh is now likely to mount a charm offensive, visiting senators in their offices ahead of his confirmation hearing. Attention will swiftly turn to two Republican senators and three Democrats who could prove critical in a knife-edge vote.
Republican Susan Collins of Maine, who has previously supported abortion access and who did not attend Monday nights event, gave little away, saying only: I will conduct a careful, thorough vetting of the presidents nominee to the supreme court, as I have done with the five previous supreme court justices whom I have considered.