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Tonight, President Trump will announce who he’s nominating to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court. The list of 25 judges represents the best of the best of conservative jurisprudence. It’s important to note that that isn’t the same as conservative political thinking. The two things are quite different.

Conservative political thinking is rooted in the philosophy of limited government being the best form of governing and that the government closest to the people is the best form of governance. These play out in the form of reform-minded policies. Conservative jurisprudential thinking is rooted in the notion that the text points the direction to the ruling.

The judiciary’s ruling undoubtedly has a political impact because their rulings are on political documents, aka legislation/statutes. That isn’t the same as judicial activism. For instance, when the Supreme Court ruled on Janus v. AFSCME, they ruled on whether public employee unions violated the employees’ First Amendment rights. The majority didn’t address the policy issue of whether they thought unions were a good or bad thing.

That’s a policy matter, which is left to the political branches, aka the executive and legislative branches.

The 4 judges that are thought to be the finalists, Amy Coney-Barrett, Brett Cavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge and Thomas Hardiman, aren’t automatically political conservatives. Each fits the mold of being a judicial conservative, though. The question for President Trump is whether he wants to pick a legal All Star or whether he wants to pick a likely legal Hall of Famer.

Cavanaugh’s reputation is that of a man whose opinions are occasionally conciliatory but always filled with conservative logic. He has 12 years of opinions so his track record is fairly lengthy. Amy Coney-Barrett has the reputation of having a conservative judicial mindset but she’s only been on the bench for a year. President Trump might think that he doesn’t want to take a chance on her until she has a more substantive bunch of opinions. She might be an all star. She might be a Hall of Famer. There’s no sense in taking chances at this point.

Hardiman and Kethledge both have extensive records in terms of opinions. Earlier today on Fox, Andy McCarthy said that Kethledge’s opinions were like a punch in the nose, meaning that they’re well-reasoned and hard-hitting. That’s the type that’s most likely to turn into a Hall of Famer. I haven’t heard much about Hardiman’s writings except to say that they’re extensive and well-written. Hardiman was supposedly the runner-up to Gorsuch last time so that might give him an edge with President Trump.

Whoever President Trump picks, we’ll get a judge who won’t insert his/her policy preferences over the preference of the Legislative and Executive branches. The only question left is whether we get a Hall of Famer or an All Star.

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