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Trump's list for Supreme Court includes 3 Michigan judges

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Washington — Three current or retired judges from Michigan are under consideration to be President Donald Trump's next pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Trump said Wednesday he intends to nominate a replacement for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy from a list of 25 previously identified candidates. 

The White House list includes retired Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young, and federal Judges Raymond M. Kethledge and Joan Larsen, who serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. 

Young, a 67-year-old Republican, ended his campaign for U.S. Senate earlier this year.

He is serving as Michigan State University’s new general counsel after helping to negotiate a settlement with victims in the Larry Nassar sex scandal. Young's contract runs through May 2021.

Robert Young

The U.S. Senate in November confirmed Larsen, 49, to the 6th Circuit after she was nominated by Trump last year. She served on the Michigan Supreme Court for two years and taught at the University of Michigan Law School.

Kethledge, 51, was nominated for the federal bench by President George W. Bush and confirmed in June 2008. The 6th Circuit hears appeals from federal district courts in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

Kennedy, 81, announced his retirement Wednesday afternoon after serving more than 30 years on the High Court. He was appointed in 1987 by Republican President Ronald Reagan. 

At the White House, Trump said the replacement process would "begin immediately," and "hopefully, we will pick someone who is just as outstanding."

Joan Larsen

Asked about potential candidates, Trump referred reporters to his earlier list of contenders.

"It will be somebody from that list," Trump said. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said the vacancy left by Kennedy represents a "very serious and consequential moment."

"We have two choices. We can take this opportunity to make progress on health care, women’s reproductive health, voting rights, workers’ rights, marriage equality, environmental protections and so many more issues that affect our quality of life in America, or we can turn the clock back on these critical issues," Stabenow said.

"Given the importance of the decisions before the Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate must come together in a bipartisan way to fill this vacancy with a mainstream justice. What we do at this moment will have a lasting impact on Michigan families."

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, thanked Kennedy for his three decades of service on the Supreme Court.

"In the tradition of Justice Kennedy’s nomination, any nominee to fill his seat must be a consensus choice who is able to earn strong support from both sides of the aisle," Peters said. 

Bob LaBrant, a Republican attorney and longtime GOP insider in Michigan, noted that Trump developed his original shortlist with advice from conservative legal groups, including the Federalist Society.

Larsen and Kethledge also appeared on Trump's initial Supreme Court list when he was a candidate in 2016.

“They added Bob Young’s name, too, but I think he has other things to do right now,” LaBrant said, referring to Young's MSU duties. 

“I don’t think they’re going to be looking at some guy in his 60s, but perhaps someone in their 40s or 50s. I think both Larsen and Kethledge are probably the right age, and the fact that they made the Federalist Society list means they are probably potential contenders.”

Larsen’s recent confirmation by the Senate could benefit her because she’s already been vetted, but she hasn’t served in the position long enough to have much of a record, LaBrant noted.

“I think there will be a lot of pressure to get somebody nominated and confirmed by the first Monday in October when the Supreme Court convenes again, and so I imagine this is going to be an absolutely battle royal of a confirmation,” LaBrant said.

Raymond Kethledge

Carl Tobias, an expert on judicial nominations at the University of Richmond School of Law, said Young doesn't have the broader reputation that Kethledge and Larsen do and, at 67, is older than the ideal candidate in their 40s or 50s. 

"I think they're both in play," Tobias said of Kethledge and Larsen. 

"She hasn’t been on the court long enough to offend people or whatever. She also has a pretty short tenure on the Michigan Supreme Court, and that could be a plus because she doesn’t have much of a paper trail. 

"Kethledge generally has a good reputation, and he went on at the end of Bush's term. He’s been on the court a decade at least, so there’s a record there to see."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Wednesday the Senate will vote to confirm Kennedy’s successor this fall. 

"It is imperative that the president’s nominee be considered fairly and not be subjected to personal attacks," McConnell said on the floor.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said McConnell should follow the example that Republicans set in 2016 and not consider a Supreme Court nomination in an election year. 

He was referring to McConnell's refusal to consider Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Barack Obama after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Garland never had a confirmation hearing or a vote in the Senate.

"Millions of people are just months away from determining the senators who should vote to confirm or reject the president's nominee," Schumer said. 

"Their voices deserve to be heard now, as Leader McConnell thought they should deserve to be heard then. Anything but that would be the absolute height of hypocrisy."