President Trump on Monday selected Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, a politically connected member of Washington’s conservative legal establishment, to fill Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court, setting up an epic confirmation battle and potentially cementing the court’s rightward tilt for a generation.
The nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, 53, a federal appeals court judge, former aide to President George W. Bush and onetime investigator of President Bill Clinton, was not a huge surprise, given his conservative record, elite credentials and deep ties among the Republican legal groups that have advanced conservatives for the federal bench.
But it will galvanize Democrats and Republicans in the months before the midterm elections. Justice Kennedy, who is retiring, held the swing vote in many closely divided cases on issues like abortion, affirmative action, gay rights and the death penalty. Replacing him with a committed conservative, who could potentially serve for decades, will fundamentally alter the balance of the court and put dozens of precedents at risk.
Judge Kavanaugh’s long history of legal opinions, as well as his role in some of the fiercest partisan battles of the last two decades, will give Democrats plenty of ammunition for tough questions. Nearly 20 years ago, working for the independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, he laid out broad grounds to impeach Mr. Clinton — words that Democrats can now seize on to apply to Mr. Trump and the Russia investigation. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who leads the barest of Republican majorities, had also expressed misgivings about his path to confirmation.
In choosing Judge Kavanaugh, the president opted for a battle-scarred veteran of Republican politics but also someone with close ties to the Bush family — a history that aides to Mr. Trump said he viewed as a strike against him and had to overcome.
Before serving Mr. Bush in the White House, Judge Kavanaugh worked for him in the 2000 presidential vote recount in Florida. When Mr. Bush nominated him in 2003 to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Democrats complained that he was too partisan. He survived a contentious confirmation hearing and was confirmed in 2006.
This time, Democrats are still bitter that Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland to fill the last Supreme Court vacancy, created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Republicans denied Judge Garland a hearing, arguing that the right to name a justice ought to be left to Mr. Obama’s successor.
Mr. Trump chose Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who has voted much as Justice Scalia had, leaving the court’s ideological dynamic basically intact. Replacing Justice Kennedy will be far more consequential, almost certainly thrusting Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., whose voting record has been more conservative than that of Justice Kennedy, into the crucial median position on the court.
For Mr. Trump, whose presidency has been marked by personnel upheaval, an uneven legislative record and persistent questions over his ties to Russia, the nomination offers a chance for a clear victory — one that would leave a lasting imprint on one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. It also fulfills, for a second time, Mr. Trump’s promise to his political base to name conservative judges in the mold of Justice Scalia.
As he did in choosing Justice Gorsuch, Mr. Trump turned the selection process into a kind of Supreme Court sweepstakes, conducting a parade of interviews, promising a blockbuster choice and stretching out his decision-making over a weekend at his golf club in New Jersey before announcing it in a prime-time appearance at the White House.
But there was less underlying drama than Mr. Trump’s theatrical approach suggested. As he did last time, the president chose from a list of two dozen candidates, carefully curated for him by the Federalist Society, which functions as a pipeline to supply conservatives to the federal bench.
Mr. Trump narrowed the list to four finalists: in addition to Judge Kavanaugh, Judges Thomas M. Hardiman, Raymond M. Kethledge and Amy Coney Barrett. All four are white, middle-age conservative federal appeals court judges. Three are Catholic; only Judge Kethledge is not.
While there are ideological differences among them — Judge Barrett is an outspoken social conservative, while Judges Kavanaugh, Kethledge and Hardiman are viewed more as pro-business, law-and-order judges — all four have compiled uniformly conservative records.
One of the things that set Judge Kavanaugh apart, aides to Mr. Trump said, was his Ivy League pedigree: He is a graduate of Yale and Yale Law School. He also impressed Mr. Trump during his interview, and was enthusiastically backed by the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II.
For Democrats, the nomination sets up a political battle they are likely to lose. While Republicans hold a razor-thin margin in the Senate — Senator John McCain’s absence because of his brain cancer reduces it to 50 seats — a handful of Democrats might vote for the nominee, particularly those running for re-election in states where Mr. Trump won in 2016 and is still popular.
Click here to read more and to WATCH the announcement.