Trump’s Shortlist for High Court Boasts Strong D.C. Experience

By Bill Roberts

July 5, 2018

Although President Trump’s shortlist of candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy changes from day to day, Court observers agree on some of the names and faces who may step into the role vacated by Justice Kennedy’s retirement. Trump says he plans to quickly put forth nominees. Here’s a look at a few potential candidates:

Judge Amy Coney Barrett
Photo Credit: University of Notre Dame
Amy Coney Barrett, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Barrett, 46, from New Orleans, was a practicing attorney at the Washington, D.C., firm of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin LLP from 1999 to 2002. Barrett graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1997 and clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She then clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for a year. In 2002 Barrett began teaching law at Notre Dame, where she continues to teach while a sitting judge. She was nominated by President Trump to the Seventh Circuit and confirmed by the Senate in a 55–43 vote in 2017.

Barrett was challenged during her confirmation hearing by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, on whether Barrett’s Catholic faith would influence her rulings on women’s reproductive rights.

“Dogma and law are two different things. And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma,” Feinstein said during Barrett’s confirmation hearing. “And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country.”

During her hearing, Barrett responded that as a circuit judge she would always follow Supreme Court precedent and further: “It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they arise from faith, or anywhere else, on the law.”

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh
Photo Credit: U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Brett M. Kavanaugh, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Bethesda, Maryland, Kavanaugh, 53, earned his law degree from Yale Law School and went to work for Kenneth Starr in the Office of the Solicitor General on the Whitewater investigation of former President Bill Clinton. Kavanaugh then clerked for the now retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. He served again with Starr in the Office of Independent Counsel and was one of the authors of the report on the Monica Lewinsky affair and the death of White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster. The report led to the impeachment of President Clinton.

Kavanaugh was a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP from 1997 to 1998, and again from 1999 to 2001. He served as an associate counsel to President George W. Bush in the White House from 2001 to 2003.

Kavanaugh was nominated to the D.C. Circuit by Bush in 2003 and confirmed by a 57–36 vote in the Senate after some Democrats accused him of excessive partisanship. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, called Kavanaugh the “Forrest Gump of Republican politics.” He was not included in Trump’s original list of potential Supreme Court nominees.

Kavanaugh has issued conservative decisions and opinions in a number of key cases that have come before the D.C. Circuit in recent years. He opined against the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, supported a challenge to the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and ruled against federal environmental regulations.

Recently, Kavanaugh drew attention from The Washington Post for a 2009 article he wrote for the Minnesota Law Review arguing that presidents should not be distracted by civil lawsuits, criminal investigations, or even questions from a prosecutor or defense attorney while in office.

Judge Thomas M. Hardiman
Photo Credit: Wikipedia/Roy Engelbrecht
Thomas M. Hardiman, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Originally from Waltham, Massachusetts, Hardiman, 52, was a finalist to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, but Trump picked Neil M. Gorsuch instead. Hardiman graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1990.

After law school, Hardiman joined the Washington, D.C., office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP where he was an associate and a D.C. Bar member from 1989 to 1992. He joined the Pittsburgh firm of Titus & McConomy LLP in 1992 and became a partner. In 1999 he joined the litigation practice of Reed Smith LLP in Pittsburgh.

Hardiman was nominated in 2003 by former President George W. Bush to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and confirmed unanimously by the Senate. He was nominated to the Third Circuit in 2007 and confirmed by the Senate in 95–0 vote.

During his time in D.C., Hardiman volunteered with the Ayuda immigration legal aid office representing immigrants. As an appeals court judge, he has ruled in favor of refugees seeking asylum, but has also supported the U.S. government in removal orders where specific law applied. Similarly, he has ruled both in support of gun restrictions for violent felons, but against a New Jersey law that would have required people to show specific reasons to own a gun.

Judge Raymond Kethledge
Photo Credit: Public Domain
Raymond Kethledge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Kethledge, 51, is from Michigan and served as judiciary counsel to former Sen. Spencer Abraham, a Michigan Republican, from 1995 to 1997. After his Senate tour, Kethledge clerked for Justice Kennedy in 1997. He is a 1993 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School where he was No. 2 in his class.

After three years in Washington, Kethledge returned to Michigan where he joined the law firm of Honigman, Miller, Schwartz & Cohn LLP and became partner. From 2001, he was briefly in-house counsel at Ford Motor Co. before starting a boutique litigation practice in 2003.

Kethledge was nominated in 2006 to the Sixth Circuit by President Bush, but his nomination was held up by the two Democrat U.S. senators from Michigan who used their leverage with Bush to also appoint a Democrat-leaning judge. Kethledge was confirmed unanimously in 2008. He teaches a legal writing course at Michigan and co-authored a book on leadership in 2017.

In his jurisprudence, Kethledge has won praise from conservatives as a defender of the Constitution’s rights protections and as a critic of judicial deference to federal agencies.

Judge Don Willett
Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Gage SkidmoreDon Willett, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Willett, 51, grew up outside Dallas–Ft. Worth, attended Baylor University, and is a 1992 graduate of Duke University Law School. He clerked for Fifth Circuit Judge Jerre Stockton Williams and practiced labor law for the Austin firm Hanes and Boone LLP from 1993 to 1996 before joining the state administration of then-Governor George W. Bush.

Willett worked for the Bush–Cheney presidential campaign and was named a special assistant to the president for Bush’s signature White House project, the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He later served in the U.S. Department of Justice as a deputy assistant attorney general where he coordinated Bush’s selection and nomination of conservative federal judges.

Willett returned to Texas in 2003 to serve in the office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. He was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court in 2005.

Late last year, Willett was nominated by Trump to the Fifth Circuit and confirmed by the Senate on a party-line 50–47 vote. He had been included in Trump’s campaign list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

Willett has been active on Twitter where he tweets as @JusticeWillett typically with humor and graphics about American culture, history, family, dogs, and cats, with occasional references to god. He has 113,000 followers.