US President Donald Trump on Monday nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, setting the stage for a tumultuous confirmation battle over the future direction of the nation's highest court.
"Throughout legal circles he's considered a judge's judge, a true thought leader among his peers," Trump said at the White House. "He's a brilliant jurist with a clear and effective writing style, universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time."
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.
Each choice represented a shift to the right compared to Kennedy, who has often cast a swing vote between conservatives and liberals on the nine-member bench.
A right-leaning Supreme Court would be one of Trump's lasting legacies and highly prized gift to his conservative base after he last year delivered his first Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch.
It may not also be his last: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 80 and Justice Stephen Breyer turns 80 next month.
Kavanaugh, 53, is likely to sit on the bench for decades and make crucial decisions on issues of abortion, gay rights, gun rights, healthcare and immigration.
"A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written and a judge must interpret the constitution as written," Kavanaugh said in a ceremony, highlighting his family, Roman Catholic faith and distinguished legal career.
The confirmation process is expected to dominate Washington ahead of November's mid-term elections, with the Republicans holding a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate. A majority of 51 votes is needed for a confirmation. It is unclear whether Senator John McCain, a Republican, will vote as he is undergoing brain cancer treatment.
Democrats plan a confrontation centered on abortion and healthcare, hoping to either scuttle the nomination process completely or delay it until after November in the hope of winning extra seats in the Senate to force Trump to compromise.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would fight Kavanaugh's nomination with "everything I have," highlighting issues of healthcare and women's rights.
Democrats' hopes are pinned on two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who both oppose any nominee who threatens the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing abortion as a constitutional right. Both senators backed Gorsuch's nomination.
Meanwhile, three Democratic senators, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, all face reelection in the fall in states Trump won. They all supported Gorsuch.
cw/aw (AFP, AP, Reuters)