Kavanaugh Has Inside Track for Trump’s Supreme Court Choice, Sources Say

(Bloomberg) -- Judge Brett Kavanaugh has the inside track within the White House to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Kavanaugh, who is 53 and sits on the federal appeals court in Washington, is supported by White House Counsel Don McGahn, who is supervising the search, two of the people said. Other finalists are appeals court judges Amy Coney Barrett, Raymond Kethledge and Thomas Hardiman.

The people familiar with the matter cautioned that while Kavanaugh may look like the favorite, President Donald Trump has sought to maintain secrecy ahead of a planned announcement on Monday in prime time. The president has told associates that he also likes Barrett, who is the favorite of many social conservatives because of her deeply held Catholic beliefs. He was impressed by Hardiman -- who sits on the same court as Trump’s sister, Maryanne Barry -- and he felt he had good chemistry with Kethledge.

The president said Thursday that he had narrowed his choice to four people and that he expected to make a decision by Sunday. He would not name any of his finalists.

His selection has the potential to cement the court’s conservative majority for years and could lead to the reconsideration of significant precedents, including the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision.

The White House is preparing promotional campaigns for multiple candidates, including Kavanaugh, Barrett, Kethledge and Hardiman. Trump has retreated to his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey for the weekend, where he’ll discuss his choice with Chief of Staff John Kelly and Vice President Mike Pence.

Kavanaugh, who has deep Washington ties, would be more of an establishment choice than Trump’s other finalists. He is a former Kennedy law clerk who worked for independent counsel Kenneth Starr and drafted much of the report that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Kavanaugh later wrote a law review article arguing that sitting presidents shouldn’t have to respond to lawsuits or criminal investigations. That stance could become a central issue in the confirmation fight, raising questions about how he would rule in cases involving Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Kavanaugh worked in President George W. Bush’s White House, where his duties included handling judicial nominations, before being nominated himself in 2003. He was confirmed in 2006 after a partisan fight.

On the appeals court, Kavanaugh has been a foe of government regulation, voting to strike down environmental-protection rules and to let the president fire the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for any reason.

Although Kavanaugh voted to throw out a constitutional challenge to Obamacare in 2011, leading conservatives say they aren’t worried he will follow the path of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Republican appointee who cast the key vote to uphold the law. Kavanaugh’s opinion hinted at doubts about the law and left open the possibility it could be overturned later.

“When you look at his whole record, he is not the kind of person who is looking at a case and trying to dodge the important decision,” said Carrie Severino, general counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, which is preparing to spend millions of dollars in support of Trump’s nominee. Severino spoke on C-Span’s “Newsmakers” program in response to a Bloomberg reporter’s question.

Kavanaugh hasn’t ruled directly on abortion rights, but he sided with the Trump administration in a fight with an undocumented teenager seeking to end her pregnancy while in federal custody.

In a dissenting opinion, Kavanaugh said he would have blocked the girl, who was 15 weeks pregnant, from having an abortion for at least another week. The government said it was trying to find a sponsor for the girl so that officials wouldn’t have to “facilitate” her trip to an abortion clinic. The girl later had the procedure.

Kavanaugh said the majority had created “a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand.”

Kavanaugh is a Washington native who went to the same Catholic high school, Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Maryland, as Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was Trump’s first appointee.

He went to Yale College and Yale Law School. His appointment would mean the Supreme Court would continue to have only Ivy League-educated justices.

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