President Donald Trump has narrowed his first Supreme Court nomination down to three finalists with Tenth Circuit judge Neil Gorsuch and Third Circuit judge Thomas Hardiman emerging as the frontrunners while Eleventh Circuit Judge Bill Pryor remains in the running but fading, according to people familiar with the search process.
Trump interviewed at least those three finalists in New York during the transition, according to a person familiar with the search. Trump himself said Tuesday he would fill the Court’s empty seat next week and has summoned top Senate leaders to the White House to discuss his impending choice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died nearly a year ago.
“The president wants to move as quickly as he can,” said Leonard Leo, one of Trump’s advisers on the court pick and a top official at the Federalist Society.
Leo declined to discuss Trump’s short list but he praised both Gorsuch and Hardiman effusively.
“Under our Constitution, the power rests with the people and that was at the core of Justice Scalia’s legacy and as you heard from President Trump’s inauguration that is the core of Trump’s agenda and that’s very much the core of what Neil Gorsuch’s record is as a jurist,” Leo said. “He’s an excellent writer. He’s got sharp analytical ability, strong intellect and he’s got a lot of strength and courage. Those are things that the president very much wants in a nominee.”
“Hardiman,” Leo added, “shares many of the same qualities.”
Leo went on to say that Hardiman was “an extraordinarily talented and smart jurist” who has “a very direct and understandable writing style.”
As Gorsuch’s fortunes have risen, Pryor’s prospects have dimmed. A 2006 George W. Bush appointee, Pryor is currently the subject of raging debate on an off-the-record list-serv that includes many in the conservative legal and political communities, including many Republican Senate staffers, thanks to his decision to join the majority in Glenn v. Brumby, a 2011 opinion that protected transgenders from workplace discrimination.