Soon after the passing last week of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after 27 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Trump said he was leaning towards announcing a female nominee to the open position-- soon.
Trump, who has already had two justices confirmed to the nine-judge panel in the first three years of his term in the White House, gave a heartfelt statement immediately after Ginsburg's passage, calling her "an inspiration to all Americans" and saying her "legacy and contribution to American history will never be forgotten."
On the subject of the late jurist's replacement, which U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said would receive a vote by the Republican-controlled chamber, Trump told reporters, "The choice of a woman, I would say, would certainly be appropriate."
He also said a nominee could be named as early as this week.
The President has released several shortlists since coming to the Oval Office, including one just two weeks ago. Among the names on that list repeatedly mentioned by pundits as being front runners are U.S. Judge Barbara Lagoa of the 11th Circuit and U.S. Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit.
Lagoa, 52, the daughter of Cuban exiles who worked pro bono to try and keep six-year-old Elian Gonzalez from being forcibly repatriated to Cuba by the Clinton administration, was a Justice on the Supreme Court of Florida after serving as a lower court judge and Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Her nomination to the federal bench last year was met easy approval in the Senate, being confirmed 80-15. She described herself at the time as being a constitutional originalist.
When asked by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., about her feelings on the Second Amendment as viewed through the lens of the 2008 Heller case which underlined that the right to keep and bear arms as an individual right, Lagoa remained aloof and responded simply that "As with all Supreme Court precedent, lower court judges are bound to fully and faithfully follow the Supreme Court’s decision in Heller," and "If confirmed, I would faithfully apply this precedent and all other precedents of the Supreme Court."
Also reportedly high on Mr. Trump's shortlist is New Orleans-born Judge Amy Coney Barrett, 48, who graduated in 1997 first in her class from Notre Dame Law School, earning the school's highest honor. After that, she clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia-- the architect of the Heller decision-- practiced private law and then returned to Notre Dame as a professor and legal scholar.
In 2017, she was nominated for the federal bench by President Trump and during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee was grilled by Feinstein over her Catholic beliefs, which in turn triggered a backlash from across the aisle and from legal experts against the line of questioning.
Barrett, who also terms herself a constitutional originalist, was ultimately confirmed by the Senate 55-43. During her time in the 7th Circuit, she issued a very originalist dissent in the case of a non-violent convicted felon barred from possessing a firearm.
"Founding-era legislatures did not strip felons of the right to bear arms simply because of their status as felons," she said. "Nor have the parties introduced any evidence that founding-era legislatures imposed virtue-based restrictions on the right; such restrictions applied to civic rights like voting and jury service, not to individual rights like the right to possess a gun."
The fight ahead
Ginsberg, who died last week at 87, was a longtime attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union before she was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by President Carter in 1980 where she served for 13 years before President Bill Clinton put her forward for the Supreme Court to fill the seat vacated by retiring Justice Byron White. Ginsberg was seen as being a big part of the liberal four-judge bloc on the high court, often voting against gun rights and other conservative issues, making her replacement a sticking point when it comes to politics.
Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, and Iowa's Chuck Grassley have expressed concerns over moving forward with a Trump nominee before election day. This could give the GOP's 53-47 control of the body a tight squeeze with Vice President Pence possibly having to cast a tie-breaker vote if all three ultimately jump sides without any likewise Democrat defections.
While Democrats of all stripes have aligned themselves with a push to hold off on filling Ginsberg's seat until after the November election, with both control of the White House and Congress potentially on the line, top Republicans in the Senate are not convinced the Dems have any cards to play.
"I know the Democrats are already saying radical things right now," U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told Fox News this weekend. "Democrats are threatening to riot in the streets. Democrats are already rioting in the streets, though. They are threatening to pack the [Supreme] Court. They were already threatening to pack the [Supreme] Court."