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Trump’s down to three in Supreme Court search

Donald Trump interviewed at least three finalists in New York during the transition, one source said. | AP Photo

Trump plans to nominate a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia next week.

Updated

President Donald Trump has narrowed his first Supreme Court nomination to three finalists, with 10th Circuit judge Neil Gorsuch and 3rd Circuit judge Thomas Hardiman emerging as front-runners while 11th Circuit Judge Bill Pryor remains in the running but fading, according to people familiar with the search process.

Trump interviewed at least those three finalists in New York during the transition, according to a person familiar with the search. Trump himself said Tuesday he would make a selection for the court’s empty seat next week and summoned top Senate leaders to the White House to discuss his impending choice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died nearly a year ago.

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“The president wants to move as quickly as he can,” said Leonard Leo, one of Trump’s advisers on the court pick and a top official at the Federalist Society.

Leo declined to discuss Trump’s short list, but he praised both Gorsuch and Hardiman effusively.

“Under our Constitution, the power rests with the people, and that was at the core of Justice Scalia’s legacy, and you heard from President Trump’s inauguration that is the core of Trump’s agenda, and that’s very much the core of what Neil Gorsuch’s record is as a jurist,” Leo said. “He’s an excellent writer. He’s got sharp analytical ability, strong intellect and he’s got a lot of strength and courage. Those are things that the president very much wants in a nominee.”

“Hardiman,” Leo added, “shares many of the same qualities.”

11th Circuit Court of Appeals judge William Pryor is a favorite among constitutional conservatives to fill the vacant Supreme Court spot.

Leo went on to say that Hardiman is “an extraordinarily talented and smart jurist” who has “a very direct and understandable writing style.”

As Gorsuch’s fortunes have risen, Pryor’s have dimmed. A 2006 George W. Bush appointee, Pryor is currently the subject of raging debate on an off-the-record group email list that includes many in the conservative legal and political communities, including many Republican Senate staffers, thanks to his decision to join the majority in Glenn v. Brumby, a 2011 opinion that protected transgender people from workplace discrimination.

“I think everybody on this list probably has something I’m not going to agree with. I think that decision with Pryor probably would be the one that would fall into that category,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal organization.

John Malcolm, who oversees a legal center inside the Heritage Foundation, acknowledged that “Bill Pryor has been getting attacked from the right. Which is strange to me.”

Politically, Pryor’s nomination would spark outrage on the left — liberal activists are likely to mobilize around his statement that Roe v. Wade is “the worst abomination of constitutional law” — without fully unifying conservatives.

Trump will nominate a Supreme Court replacement next week

President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday from the Oval Office that he will name a nominee next week.