Trump says likely to nominate a woman to succeed Ginsburg on Supreme Court

by Reuters
Saturday, 19 September 2020 23:12 GMT

(Adds more Trump quotes)

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON/FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. Sept 19 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Saturday flagged two women as possible choices for the U.S. Supreme Court: conservatives he elevated to federal appeals courts, who would tip the court further to the right following the death of liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Trump, with a chance to nominate a third justice to a lifetime appointment, named Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit as possible nominees. Trump said he had a short list, vowed to move quickly and rejected suggestions to hold off on a nomination until after the November presidential and congressional elections.

"We have an obligation. We won and we have an obligation as the winners to pick who we want. That's not the next president," Trump said. "We're here right now."

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters on a campaign trip to the politically important state of North Carolina the opening "changes the focus to be more of a Supreme Court related focus for both sides. ... without a doubt."

Ginsburg's death on Friday from cancer after 27 years on the court handed Trump, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3, the opportunity to expand its conservative majority to 6-3 at a time of a gaping political divide in America.

Any nomination would require approval in the Senate, where Trump's Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.

Trump said he expected to make a "very popular choice" next week. He said it was not clear if the vote would take place before the election. "I think it's going to move very quickly," Trump said.

Not all Republican senators supported the move: Maine's Susan Collins on Saturday said a nomination should wait.

"In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the President or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd," Collins, facing a tough re-election race herself, said on Twitter.

Democrats are still seething over the Republican Senate's refusal to act on Democratic President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died 10 months before that election, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then said the Senate should not act on a nominee during an election year. He has reversed that stance now.

Even if Democrats win the White House and a Senate majority in the November election, Trump and McConnell might be able to push through their choice before the new president and Congress are sworn in until Jan. 3.

Senior congressional Democrats raised the prospect of adding more justices next year to counterbalance Trump's nominees if they win control of the White House and Senate.

McConnell, who has made confirmation of Trump's federal judicial nominees a priority, said the chamber would vote on any Trump nominee. Democrats, with few tools to block passage of a nominee, plan to try to rally public opposition.

"The focus needs to be showing the public what's at stake in this fight. And what's at stake is really people's access to affordable healthcare, workers' rights and women's rights," said Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen in a telephone interview.

Obama on Saturday called on Senate Republicans to honor what he called McConnell's "invented" 2016 principle.

"A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what's convenient or advantageous in the moment," Obama said in a statement posted online.

AMY CONEY BARRETT AND BARBARA LAGOA

Even before Ginsburg's death, Trump had made public a list of potential nominees.

Barrett has generated perhaps the most interest in conservative circles. A devout Roman Catholic, she was a legal scholar at Notre Dame Law School in Indiana before Trump appointed her to the 7th Circuit in 2017. Abortion-rights groups have pointed to Barrett's conservative religious views and said that as a judge, she would likely vote to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Lagoa has served on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for less than a year after Trump appointed her and the Senate confirmed her in an 80-15 vote. Prior to that, she spent less than a year in her previous position as the first Latina on the Florida Supreme Court, after more than a decade as a judge on an intermediate appeals court in the state.

Another candidate Trump had considered previously is Amul Thapar. He was a district court judge in Kentucky - the first federal judge of South Asian descent - before Trump appointed him to the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit in 2017.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, a longtime goal of conservative activists. Even with the current conservative majority, the court voted 5-4 in July to strike down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law.

Trump has already appointed two justices: Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed after a heated confirmation process in which he angrily denied accusations by a California university professor, Christine Blasey Ford, that he had sexually assaulted her in 1982 when the two were high school students in Maryland.

SENATE CHALLENGE

Some liberal activists have suggested the number of justices on the court should be expanded to counter Trump's appointees, if Democrats win November's election after Republicans replace Ginsburg with a Trump pick.

"Let me be clear: if Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told fellow Democrats on a Saturday conference call, according to a source who listened to the call.

House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Saturday said that rushing a court pick through the Senate if Democrats win in November would be "undemocratic."

He said on Twitter: "Congress would have to act and expanding the court would be the right place to start."

With Democrats fighting hard to win control of the narrowly divided Senate, confirmation votes could also add pressure to incumbent Republican senators in competitive election races, including Collins and Arizona's Martha McSally.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a Republican who is not up for re-election this cycle, told local media on Friday, prior to Ginsburg's death, that she would not vote for a Supreme Court nominee so close to the election.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Steve Holland in Washington; Andrea Shalal in Fayetteville, N.C. Additional reporting by Rick Cowan, Alexandre Alper and David Shepardson in Washington,; Editing by Scott Malone, Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)

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