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Trump picks Brett Kavanaugh to replace Kennedy on Supreme Court

FILE -In this April 26, 2004, file photo, Brett Kavanaugh appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kavanaugh is on President Donald Trump's list of potential Supreme Court Justice candidates to fill the spot vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File)

President Donald Trump announced Monday night he would nominate U.S. appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

“There is no one in America more qualified for this position and no one more deserving,” said Trump, who called Kavanaugh “one of the sharpest legal minds of our time.”

Kavanaugh was selected off a shortlist thought to have included federal appeals court judges Thomas Hardiman, Raymond Kethledge and Amy Coney Barrett.

All of Trump’s top candidates were considered more solidly conservative than Kennedy.

Kavanaugh, 53, was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. in 2006. He graduated from Yale Law School and at one point clerked for Kennedy. He also served in the George W. Bush White House.

Earlier Monday, the White House announced that former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl would guide the nominee through the confirmation process.

The nominee needs approval from a simple majority in the Senate to be confirmed. The GOP might have zero wiggle room if Sen. John McCain remains at home in Arizona while battling cancer during the confirmation vote.

If no Democrats or independents vote in favor of confirmation, every GOP senator would have to approve of the pick. Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, who support abortion rights, are the Republicans considered most likely oppose a nominee deemed too conservative.

Last month, after Supreme Court completed its session, the 81-year-old Kennedy announced he would be stepping down at the end of July. Kennedy has been a justice for the country’s highest court since being appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Kennedy had been considered the swing vote for the court, backing liberal views on gay rights and abortion but leaning conservatively on issues such as gun rights and campaign spending.

His retirement presented Trump with his second Supreme Court pick. In 2017, the president selected Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia.

A year earlier, Senate Republicans had refused to hold confirmation hearings for then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, arguing that a replacement shouldn’t be named during an election year. The gambit paid off for the GOP when Trump was elected.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.