On July 10, President Donald Trump nominated
Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat that will be vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy when he retires on July 31.
The 53-year-old Kavanaugh, Justice Kennedy’s former law clerk, was appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2006 and has since authored more than 300 opinions. Prior to his appointment, Kavanaugh held various roles in the Bush administration, first as an associate counsel and then senior associate counsel, and later as an assistant to the president and staff secretary.
Kavanaugh will spend the next few months meeting with members of the U.S. Senate and then proceed to confirmation hearings. With a new Supreme Court session convening Oct. 1, the Senate and Trump administration are up against the clock to confirm Kavanaugh to avoid a 4-4 ideological deadlock on future controversial cases.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has expressed his desire to move quickly to confirm Kavanaugh ahead of the midterm elections in November. And as Supreme Court nominees now only need a simple majority to be confirmed, Senate Republicans could approve his nomination without help from Democrats if they remain united.
With Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) unable to vote as he continues treatment for cancer, Senate Republicans have no room for error and will likely need all 50 party members to support Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Democrats have ratcheted up their opposition to the likely nominee and all eyes remain on two moderate female Republican Senators, Lisa Murkowski (Ala.) and Susan Collins (Maine), to see if they will break ranks with Senate Republicans.
In addition, pundits will be watching the three Democrats—Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.)—who supported President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, confirmed by a vote of 54-45 last year
. All three face tough reelection battles in red states this November.
Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.) is another Democrat from a deep red state to watch closely. Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the only Democrat remaining in the Senate who voted for Kavanaugh for his current position as judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is not expected to vote for Kavanaugh again.
In 2013, then Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) changed Senate rules on a party-line vote and ended the filibuster on appellate court and executive nominees, a maneuver known as the nuclear option. Under the nuclear option, nominees only needed 51 votes instead of the previous 60 to end a filibuster, which allowed Democrats to pack the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and win some favorable rulings on President Obama’s regulatory agenda. In 2017, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans expanded the nuclear option to Supreme Court nominees to confirm Judge Gorsuch.