Donald Trump has named Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee for the USA supreme court, lighting the fuse of an acrimonious political battle and potentially setting the court on a more conservative course for decades to come.
The president and White House officials involved in the process have fielded calls and messages and have been on the receiving end of public pleas and op-eds for or against specific candidates since Kennedy announced on June 27 that he would retire this summer. According to data from a CNN exit poll, 70% of voters said that Supreme Court appointments were "important" to their vote.
Kavanaugh is a well-known figure in Washington and has been involved in some of the biggest controversies of the past two decades.
Kavanaugh was a favorite of some high-profile boosters, inside and outside the White House, but his stock has fallen off since Friday for a couple reasons: his ties to former President George W. Bush and the potential difficulty in getting him confirmed.
In recent days, the Kentucky Republican - who oversaw the successful confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch previous year - has played a significant behind-the-scenes role, consulting the President and his team daily on strategy and the political realities that await any nominee. "Throughout legal circles, he is considered a judge's judge, a true thought leader among his peers".
President Trump campaigned with a promise to conservatives that he would fill the federal courts, from the top on down, with judges to their liking. Some conservatives have questioned his commitment to social issues like abortion.
If confirmed, the appellate judge would become the second young, conservative jurist Trump has put on the top USA court during his first term.
Trump had narrowed down his choice to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy to federal appeals judges Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman.
"My judicial philosophy is straightforward: a judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. Judge Kavanaugh is known as a judge who respects the Constitution as written, refusing to legislate from the bench". John McCain's prolonged absence, Kavanaugh's confirmation is anything but a slam dunk.
Republicans in the Senate need to be completely united on the pick, because of the delicate nature of their majority. Sen.
Moderate Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski said they could carefully vet Kavanaugh before deciding how to vote. Kavanaugh's vetting process will probably take even longer due to the extensive paper trail that he generated during his long legal career thus far, creating a golden opportunity for Senate Democrats to seize upon.
"There is no one in America more qualified for this position and no one more deserving", Trump said, urging the Senate to swiftly confirm his nominee.
On this NPR Politics Podcast, political reporter Asma Khalid, national political correspondent Mara Liasson and congressional reporter Kelsey Snell explore Kavanaugh's background and why Trump nominated him to serve on the high court.
Kavanaugh, 53, now serves as a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kavanaugh now faces what appears to be another fierce fight for confirmation in the Senate, where Trump's fellow Republicans hold a slim majority.
Savoring the suspense, Trump has sought to keep people guessing in the final hours, hoping to replicate his successful announcement of Justice Neil Gorsuch past year. "There is no question in my mind regarding Brett for the Supreme Court". Gorsuch restored the court's conservative majority. Two of Trump's closest advisers on the issue - Federalist Society vice president Leonard Leo and White House counsel Don McGahn - were both reportedly behind picking Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh in 2009 changed his tune on the Starr probe, arguing that presidents should be free from civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions and investigations while in office.
But despite his experience co-authoring the report, or rather because of it, Kavanaugh has become an ardent supporter of a president's power.
The US leader kept the suspense running for days over his choice for the crucial vacancy, narrowing the selection down to a shortlist of four judges, all with solid right-wing credentials.