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Trump says ‘3 or 2’ judges in play, but media odds he’ll pick Brett Kavanaugh

President Donald Trump arrives at a rally in Montana Thursday evening. | AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Donald Trump says he has narrowed the list of contenders to fill the U. S. Supreme Court seat held by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Thursday evening, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One: “I think I have it down to four people. And I think of the four people I have it down to three or two.”

Trump is not naming names, but says he’ll decide by the weekend and announce his pick Monday night at 8PM CST. Trump adds that he thinks “they’re all outstanding.”

Chicago-based federal judge Amy Coney Barrett, Washington D.C.-based judge Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge, a federal judge in Michigan, are considered top contenders.

First, in this excellent video explainer from The Associated Press, find out how the three candidates compare:

Round-up of media buzz on who will get the plum lifetime appointment

• The Washington Post says the focus is on Kavanaugh and Kethledge. “Kavanaugh and Kethledge have the ‘inside track,’ according to a person close to the president, because some White House officials believe Coney Barrett, 46, could instead be a pick for the high court in the coming years, after she gains more experience on the federal bench.” Barrett was confirmed by the Senate to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals just last year.

Amy Coney Barrett and Washington insider Brett Kavanaugh, top contenders for the upcoming vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Both are federal appeals court judges. | AP Photos
Top contenders Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. | AP Photos

• Most reporting about the chances of Barrett centers on her being a devout Roman Catholic – and specifically her membership in a little-known ecumenical group called “People of Praise.” The Daily Mail declares in its headline: “Trump’s female Supreme Court favorite belongs to a Christian group which helped inspire The Handmaid’s Tale and tells her to submit to her husband – and members believe they healed teen girl by laying on of hands.”

CNBC quoted sources on Thursday that Trump privately indicated that he has settled on a Supreme Court nominee and that his choice is Kavanaugh. The New York Times is also referring to Kavanaugh as “the frontrunner.”

• The conservative National Review takes a deep dive into Kavanaugh’s record on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and asks Brett Kavanaugh is an excellent judge, but is he the best choice? Writer David French offers: “I have my concerns [about Kavanaugh], and those concerns are rooted in two cases that have been oft-misrepresented in the debate but are consequential nonetheless. The first is Seven-Sky v. Holder (better known as Kavanaugh’s Obamacare case). The second is Priests for Life v. HHS (an Obamacare contraception-mandate case.) In both cases, his reasoning is sharp and his legal decisions are defensible. In both cases, however, I believe he made important errors.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine – a pro-choice Republican – is having an outsized influence in the process, notes the Weekly Standard. Collins seemed to take a strong stand on Roe v. Wade last Sunday, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that she wanted “a nominee who would respect precedent.” Trump needs her vote.

• To that end, Politico reported Thursday evening that Kethledge is getting an 11th hour push as the potential consensus pick. Likewise, John Roberts of Fox News was reporting as early as Thursday morning that Judge Raymond Kethledge’s “stock is rising.”

In this May 7, 2008, image from video provided by C-SPAN, Raymond Kethledge testifies during his confirmation hearing for the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court on Capitol Hill in Washington. | C-SPAN via AP
In this May 7, 2008, image from video provided by C-SPAN, Raymond Kethledge testifies during his confirmation hearing for the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court on Capitol Hill in Washington. | C-SPAN via AP

• In a twist, CNN reports Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer appealed to President Trump to repeat his predecessor’s choice and nominate federal judge Merrick Garland to the Court for a second time “as a way to unify the country,” according to a CNN source. Trump called Schumer out of courtesy to update him on the process and is not believed to have been seeking his advice.

• Finally, our own Lynn Sweet cautions that no one should count Barrett out. Her Hoosier roots could tip the balance in her favor.