BY CATHERINE LUCEY, ZEKE MILLER AND MARK SHERMAN
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh, a solidly conservative, politically connected judge, for the Supreme Court on July 9, setting up a ferocious confirmation battle with Democrats as he seeks to shift the nation’s highest court ever further to the right.
Trump passed over finalists that included Amul Thapar, who would have made history as the first Indian American on the court. Experts say Thapar lacked the long conservative track record of some of his competitors and has credentials that aren’t quite as sterling.
A favorite of the Republican legal establishment in Washington, Kavanaugh, 53, is a former law clerk for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Like Trump’s first nominee last year, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh would be a young addition who could help remake the court for decades to come with rulings that could restrict abortion, expand gun rights and roll back key parts of Obamacare.
“He is 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 said in his prime-time televised White House announcement. He added: “There is no one in America more qualified for this position, and no one more deserving.”
As recently as last week, Thapar, who grew up in Ohio but lives in Northern Kentucky, had been mentioned as a finalist. But in recent days various news outlets had downplayed his chances.
Trump had said he wanted someone with impeccable credentials, including a degree from a top university, such has Harvard or Yale, according to news reports.
Thapar, 49, graduated from Boston College and earned his law degree at the University of California — both prestigious, but not Ivy League. He would have been the only justice on the court without a Yale or Harvard law degree. Kavanaugh did his undergraduate work at Yale and graduated from its law school.
Thapar was a law clerk for a 6th Circuit judge, a less prestigious posting than three other finalists who clerked for Supreme Court justices — Judges Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge for Kennedy himself; and Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Thapar had a powerful backer in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But in slightly more than a year on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, he has yet to carve a track record to prove he’d be a reliable conservative on the high court.
Experts say this isn’t the end of the road for Thapar. He is young enough to be considered again — perhaps even by Trump. The court’s two oldest justices are Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 85, and Stephen Breyer, who is 79.