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Trump Unveils Court Pick on Monday


FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump listens as Justice Anthony Kennedy speaks before swearing in Judge Neil Gorsuch as an Associate Supreme Court Justice at the White House in Washington, April 10, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday will announce his nominee for the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The announcement is likely to set off a major confirmation battle in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority and opposition Democrats say they are ready for a fight over Trump’s court pick.

On Twitter Monday, ahead of his announcement, Trump said he has "long heard that the most important decision a U.S. President can make is the selection of a Supreme Court Justice."

In his weekly presidential address, Trump said his “greatest responsibility is to select a justice who will faithfully interpret the Constitution as written.” The president vowed to select someone with “impeccable credentials, great intellect, unbiased judgment and deep reverence for the laws and Constitution.”

During a campaign rally in Montana Thursday, Trump sought to build expectations among supporters for his nominee.

“As you know there is now a vacancy on the Supreme Court. And if you tune in Monday at 9 o’clock I think you are going to be extremely happy with the selection. Right? And they are all great. They are all great,” Trump said to cheers at a rally in Great Falls, Montana.

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Democrats mobilize

Anthony Kennedy was a critical swing vote in a number of high-profile cases, including same-sex marriage and upholding a woman's right to an abortion.

Democrats have vowed to resist a nominee who could swing the high court further to the right.

“So it makes it all the more important that we get someone who is going to be a person of integrity and someone who is going to make a decision based on precedent, based on the rule of law, and not someone who is ideological,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

The Kennedy void

Legal analysts noted that Kennedy’s departure leaves a critical void on the high court.

“He leaves the court in a calcified state of a hardened left and right with nobody in that middle position,” said George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley.

Trump said he has narrowed his choice to three or four contenders. Among those believed to be on the short list are federal appeals court judges Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar.

Kennedy was often a member of five-to-four majority decisions on the high court, and now conservatives see a chance to solidify their majority on the Supreme Court for years to come.

“I think many on the right feel in particular that Anthony Kennedy, while broadly on the conservative side, was not as consistent as he might have been, and that the nominee of Donald Trump will have the court be much more consistently five votes in the conservative direction,” said John Fortier with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

Rightward shift

Analysts also predict that a firmly conservative nominee will spark a high stakes political battle in the Senate.

“I think that we probably have never seen an appointment process that will be as contentious as this one given the importance of Kennedy’s position on the court and the increasingly polarized state of the nation,” said George Washington University legal analyst Paul Schiff Berman via Skype.

A recent Quinnipiac Poll found that 31 percent of voters believe Trump’s nominee should make the high court more conservative. Twenty-nine percent want the pick to make the court more liberal and 35 percent said the appointment should keep the current balance on the court.

The survey also found that by a margin of 50 percent to 42 percent, Americans believe the Supreme Court is more motivated by politics than the law.

Trump’s nominee must be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 51- to 49-seat majority. A handful of Senate Democrats running for re-election in states that Trump won handily in 2016 could face a difficult vote on the court nominee. They could provide Republicans with an additional buffer if they decide to support the president.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.