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Politics

Lights, camera, Supreme Court nominee!

President Donald Trump Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch
President Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy administers the judicial oath to Neil M. Gorsuch in the White House Rose Garden on April 10, 2017.
(Washington Post)

President Trump has been teasing about his choice for another Supreme Court justice for days, dropping hints about which finalist would get the nod, while suggesting he may wait until the final hours to decide.

The president will make the big reveal, as they say in the reality-television industry, at 9 p.m. EDT Monday, a prime-time announcement in the White House East Room that is likely to feature the nominee’s family, a speech to spotlight his or her personal story, and maybe even a few tears of joy.

The Supreme Court selection is yet another staid Washington ritual transformed by Trump, who learned the narrative power of reality TV while hosting NBC’s “The Apprentice.” Trump staged a similar event early last year when he nominated Neil M. Gorsuch to replace the deceased Antonin Scalia, a decision that helped solidify Trump’s political base.

The selection and Senate confirmation of a second justice offers Trump an opportunity to leave what could be his most lasting legacy — a solidly conservative court for perhaps decades.

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Unlike Gorsuch, who replaced a like-minded conservative and thus maintained the court’s ideological status quo, the pick to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the court’s swing voter who announced his retirement last month, is likely to shift the court’s balance on some of the nation’s most contentious issues, including abortion.

The finalists, all federal appeals court judges — Amy Coney Barrett, Thomas Hardiman, Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge — are each more conservative than Kennedy, who typically voted with the court’s conservative majority yet split off at times, most significantly to preserve abortion rights and enshrine the constitutionality of gay marriage. The replacement candidates are relatively young, in their 40s and 50s, meaning they could serve for decades beyond Trump’s presidency.

“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 P.M.” Trump tweeted Monday.

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Trump has delighted in choosing judges, an issue that unites conservative groups, including some that have been skeptical of either his personal behavior or his policy positions, for example on trade and other economic issues.

During the campaign, Trump made the unprecedented decision to publicize his list of Supreme Court candidates, assuring wavering evangelicals and other conservatives that he would stick with justices who fit the mode of Scalia, a stalwart leader of the court’s right flank.

The list, updated last year to 25 people from the initial 11, was assembled by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, outside conservative groups with tremendous influence in the Trump White House.

Trump makes his selection with an eye to the closely divided Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority — 50-49 if the ailing Sen. John McCain of Arizona remains absent. The president will need votes from Democratic moderates if his nominee doesn’t have the support of Republican moderates who favor abortion rights.

Follow the latest news of the Trump administration on Essential Washington »

noah.bierman@latimes.com | Twitter: @noahbierman


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