People stand outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S.(Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Trump Says He's Narrowed Supreme Court Search to Four People

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he’s narrowed his choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy to four people -- or perhaps even just three or two -- and that he expects to make a decision by Sunday.

“I think I have it down to four people and I think of the four people, I have it down to three or two,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday. “I think they’re all outstanding.”

He wouldn’t name any of his finalists.

“I’ll have a decision made in my mind by Sunday. We’ll announce it on Monday.”

Three federal appeals court judges have emerged as his favorites: Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge, two people familiar with the matter said.

Among the three, Trump currently favors Kavanaugh and Kethledge over Barrett, according to the people. The president would neither confirm or deny that the three judges are among his finalists.

“I don’t want to say the four,” he said. “But I have it down to four.”

Trump has interviewed at least seven potential replacements for Kennedy, people with knowledge of the process said earlier this week. The White House aims to have Kennedy’s successor confirmed in time for the court’s next session in October.

The confirmation process promises to be a fight. As soon as Kennedy announced his retirement plans in late June, Democrats mobilized against Trump’s eventual pick, arguing that anyone he selects would help roll back abortion rights, Affordable Care Act protections, same-sex marriage, and scores of other decisions that have shaped modern America, while ruling in favor of corporations and against under-represented minorities.

With Republicans holding just a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, the fate of the nominee will turn on a handful of Senate outliers in both parties -- Republicans who support abortion rights and Democrats who don’t.

Barrett, 46, is currently on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals after being nominated by Trump in mid-2017 and confirmed in October. Before joining the bench, she was a professor at Notre Dame Law School, her alma mater, and two decades ago clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Like four of the five Christians on the court, Barrett is a Roman Catholic. If confirmed, she would be the fifth woman to join the court and would join three others currently active.

In response to a question about Barrett last week aboard Air Force One, Trump called her “an outstanding woman.”

Kavanaugh, 53, is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit who has a background in politics. Before he was nominated to the D.C. circuit by George W. Bush, he was Bush’s White House staff secretary and worked for Bush during the 2000 Florida vote recount. He also played a lead role in drafting Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s 1998 report on President Bill Clinton. He is a Yale Law School graduate.

Kethledge, 51, was confirmed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008 after spending most of his career in private practice. A graduate of University of Michigan Law School, he clerked for Kennedy in the late 1990s and advised Republican Senator Spencer Abraham of Michigan.

Kethledge has impressed those within the White House, the people close to the process said. He was considered for the previous Supreme Court vacancy, but didn’t meet with Trump then. On Monday, Trump expressed favorable opinions about him.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.