Less than 24 hours after 81-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, effective July 31, from the Supreme Court after a more than 30-year tenure (making him the 14th longest service justice out of 113), rumors about his successor already abound. To wit, Bloomberg reported that President Trump has asked his advisors for their opinions about nominating Utah Senator Mile Lee to replace Kennedy.
To be sure, the selection process is just beginning, and it’s likely Trump hasn’t yet settled on a favorite, according to Bloomberg. Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, is also being considered (and led online betting markets as the most likely candidate as of yesterday).
The selection of a Supreme Court justice is vital to the president’s legacy: Assuming Trump’s nominee is around the age of his previous pick, Neil Gorsuch, he or she will likely serve on the court for decades.
And even with Republicans’ slim majority in the Senate, whoever Trump nominates only needs the support of the Republican caucus to make it through the Senate since the Democrats implemented the so-called “nuclear option” – eliminating most fillibusters for presidential nominations – back in 2013.
Importantly, Lee’s name was included on a list of potential nominees that Trump released during the campaign, even though Lee initially declined to endorse the president and said he voted for fellow Utahan Evan McMullin as a “protest vote.” But while Trump is notorious for holding grudges, he and Lee appear to have patched things up; Lee has been a reliable vote for Trump’s priorities.
“I have a good relationship with the president. He and I don’t see eye to eye on every issue,” Lee said in a Fox News interview on Thursday. “He and I see eye to eye on most things when it comes to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Lee, a religious conservative, has criticized the landmark Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion across the US, and would be expected to try and overturn that decision if he’s elevated to the court. However, this quality could complicate his nomination, given that two moderate abortion-rights supporting Republican Senators – Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski – could take issue with a Lee nomination.
As of Thursday afternoon, online betting markets have shifted in favor of Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, who is currently the front runner.
Barrett’s name was also included on Trump’s list of 25 potential candidates. Trump said after Kennedy announced his retirement that his nominee would come from that list.