Appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett is the early favorite to become President Donald Trump's next Supreme Court nominee, but two other judges, Barbara Lagoa and Amul Thapar, are also drawing interest, according to people familiar with the process.
The White House is preparing to press forward with a hotly contested nomination battle to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Trump is weighing his options with a view to November's vote: considering candidates whose backgrounds and judicial credentials he thinks will bolster his chances of re-election.
On Saturday, people familiar with the rapidly-evolving process said that Lagoa's stock was rising quickly in the White House. Thapar, a who now hails from Kentucky, rounds out the shortlist. The three have something in common: they're young, with the prospect of serving on the top U.S. court for decades.
All three judges appeared on a list of potential high-court nominees that Trump updated earlier this month, and Barrett and Thapar were among the nominees whom Trump considered before selecting Brett Kavanaugh for the court in 2018.
During a phone call on Friday night with Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn't express a preference for any candidate, and said he could deliver a floor vote, people briefed on the conversation said.
A Catholic mother of seven, Barrett, 48, serves on the Seventh Circuit and is the favorite of social conservatives. After Kavanaugh's bitter 2018 confirmation battle, White House aides, including former White House counsel Don McGahn, told disappointed Barrett allies that she was being saved for the next round of nomination prospects, two people familiar with the matter said.
"If the president is of a mind to replace Justice Ginsburg with a woman, then somebody who would be at or near the top of the list would be Judge Amy Coney Barrett," said John Malcolm, a legal expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation whose list of possible Supreme Court justices was largely adopted by then-candidate Trump in 2016. "She's certainly a favorite among social conservatives and also had expressed a great deal of skepticism about the administrative state."
But Lagoa, 52, a judge on the Eleventh Circuit, has emerged as an appealing prospect since the news of Ginsburg's death, according to three people familiar with the White House's deliberations. Trump believes that nominating Lagoa, a Latina judge from Florida, could boost his re-election chances, and that Republican senators like Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine would be less likely to oppose her, given that she received 80 votes during her confirmation to the Senate in 2018.
At the moment, Thapar is the third most likely nominee, according to two of the people familiar with the White House's thinking. He is close with McConnell, and Trump views him as a potential political asset because his home state is Michigan, according to one of the people.
Thapar, 51, is also known to perform well in TV interviews and has navigated the Senate confirmation process three times before – first as a US attorney in Kentucky, then as a district judge, and then as an appeals judge on the Sixth Circuit.
"I'm my own judge, and I hope my track record speaks to that," he said at his appeals-court confirmation hearing in 2017.
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