President Donald Trump tonight named Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy as Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, in a reality-TV-like primetime reveal.
Trump’s nom was unveiled in the White House’s East Room, picking from his short list provided by right-wing Federalist Society. He called Kavanaugh “one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time.” Announcement of Kavanaugh’s name drew a standing ovation in the room filled with GOP bigwigs.
“I know the people in this room well; they do not stand and give applause like that very often,” Trump bragged after naming his choice.
Broadcast networks scrambled to clear room on their primetime schedules at 9 PM in order to cover Trump’s announcement, ABC interrupting summer reality TV workhorse The Bachelorette, to carry Survivor: Scotus.
White House promoted the ceremony on Twitter:
Trump’s made-for-TV announcement mirrored his January selection of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Now, as then, Trump’s unveiling of Gorsuch was carried live by the broadcast and cable news networks and streamed live on Facebook, churning up one of the larger recent audiences for a reality TV series reveal.
Back in January Trump took extraordinary measures to build suspense and keep the final selection under wraps, teasing shortly before the revealing that Gorsuch and federal appellate judge Thomas Hardiman were the established favorites. Trump had both men travel to DC for the announcement to keep suspense high; Hardiman was seen pumping gas en route to Washington. But word he’d picked Gorsuch leaked out shortly before the reveal.
Back then, Trump’s decision to summon both men to Washington, and his primetime TV special reveal seemed to shock some TV news talking heads and Supreme Court scholars not familiar with reality-TV tropes. Months later, same reality-TV treatment for his second pick barely raised eyebrows.
“I have long heard that the most important decision a U.S. President can make is the selection of a Supreme Court Justice – Will be announced tonight at 9:00 PM” Trump preened via Twitter this morning:
Hardiman, originally recommended to Trump by his sister, Third Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, was again a finalist, having a backstory that appeals to POTUS: first member of his family to graduate college.
But, walking up to Trump’s primetime special, D.C. circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh also widely considered to be the frontrunner, though Trump did not love his close connection to the Bush family. On the bright side, Kavanaugh worked for Ken Starr during his probe of President Bill Clinton, and is credited by pundits with some of the most salacious questions to that POTUS. Kavanaugh also repped Cuban tot Elian Gonzales, pro bono, when conservatives battled to keep him from returning to Cuba; Kavanaugh also was one of the George W. Bush lawyers in the Florida recount.
Other finalists included Amy Coney Barrett, a Seventh Circuit judge, was considered the candidate that would make Trump’s base most happy, deeply conservative views and religious beliefs.
And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had pushed Trump to pick Sixth Circuit’s Raymond Kethledge, being perhaps least controversial and most likely to win approved by enough Dems to augment GOP’s thumbs up, which matters because of Republicans’ slim edge in the Senate and Sen. John McCain’s expected no-vote as he battles brain cancer. On the other hand, Trump’s base loves a good fight.
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