Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s announcement Wednesday that he is retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court effective July 31 has opened the floodgates of speculation on whom President Trump will choose as his replacement.
The White House has previously circulated names of potential successors. “It will be somebody from that list,” President Trump said in remarks at the White House Wednesday afternoon. “We have now boiled it down to about 25 people.”
Here is a look at the seven judges who are considered front-runners. With the exceptions of Amy Coney Barrett and Amul Thapar, all are George W. Bush appointees.
Brett Kavanaugh of Maryland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: A graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, Kavanaugh was appointed in 2006 by Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He previously worked in the Bush White House as assistant to the president and staff secretary and was a partner at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm. Notably, in 1993, Kavanaugh worked as a law clerk for Kennedy; his name was added to the White House list in November, a move that some believed might make Kennedy more comfortable with retiring.
Raymond Gruender of Missouri, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit: Gruender has been on Trump’s shortlist since before the 2016 election. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, he worked as the Missouri state director for GOP nominee Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996 and went on to serve as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri before the Senate in 2004 confirmed him to his current job in a 97-to-1 vote. He wrote an opinion that a 1978 pregnancy law does not give female employees the right to contraceptive coverage, a ruling to which opponents of the Affordable Care Act have pointed.
Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit: Hardiman was among those interviewed by Trump last year to fill the vacancy left by Antonin Scalia’s death. He took an unconventional route to the federal bench: He was the first in his family to graduate from college and drove a taxi to help pay for his education. He is a Georgetown University Law Center alumnus and is also reportedly the favorite of Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, with whom he serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. He has previously written two majority opinions — one backing the strengthening of mandatory minimum sentences for criminals, and the other supporting strip-searches — that were reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit: Kethledge is also a former Kennedy clerk and was among those under consideration by Trump last year. The University of Michigan graduate was originally nominated to his current job by Bush in 2006, but due to opposition from Michigan’s two Democratic senators, he was not confirmed until a compromise deal was reached two years later. Before joining the bench, he was the legal counsel for former senator and secretary of energy Spencer Abraham. He also recently co-wrote a book, “Lead Yourself First,” that examines the benefits of solitude for leaders. A 2014 ruling by Kethledge against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was hailed by a Wall Street Journal editorial as “opinion of the year.”
William H. Pryor Jr. of Alabama, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit: Pryor is a veteran of the political fights surrounding judicial picks. In 2003, he was nominated by Bush to the appeals court, but it took a recess appointment and a two-year standoff before Republicans and Democrats finally crafted a deal that confirmed him to the position. Pryor is a conservative and harsh critic of Roe v. Wade, which he has called “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” He is a protege of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and was also near the top of Trump’s list last year.
Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit: Barrett is a relatively new appeals court judge in Chicago, having been confirmed last year after a bruising confirmation fight. Democrats questioned whether Barrett, then a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, let her Catholic faith play too big a role in her legal thinking. That line of questions angered religious conservatives, who rallied to support her. She insisted her faith would not interfere with her role as a judge, and was confirmed.
Amul Thapar of Kentucky, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit: Thapar has been a federal appeals court judge in Cincinnati for about a year. He worked as a federal prosecutor in Kentucky before eventually becoming a district court judge. Thapar is a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and as a candidate, Trump said he would consider Thapar as a Supreme Court pick. He was interviewed by Trump for the Supreme Court vacancy last year.
Other names floated by the White House include:
Keith Blackwell of Georgia, Supreme Court of Georgia
Charles Canady of Florida, Supreme Court of Florida
Steven Colloton of Iowa, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit
Allison Eid of Colorado, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit
Britt Grant of Georgia, Supreme Court of Georgia
Joan Larsen of Michigan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit
Mike Lee of Utah, United States senator
Thomas Lee of Utah, Supreme Court of Utah
Edward Mansfield of Iowa, Supreme Court of Iowa
Federico Moreno of Florida, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida
Kevin Newsom of Alabama, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit
Margaret Ryan of Virginia, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
David Stras of Minnesota, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit
Diane Sykes of Wisconsin, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
Timothy Tymkovich of Colorado, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit
Robert Young of Michigan, Supreme Court of Michigan (Ret.)
Don Willett of Texas, Supreme Court of Texas
Patrick Wyrick of Oklahoma, Supreme Court of Oklahoma
Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.