President Donald Trump said Thursday he has narrowed down — to two or three — the list of contenders he's considering to fill the vacancy for the Supreme Court seat held by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. "I think I have it down to four people. And I think of the four people I have it down to three or two," Trump said. He has wrapped up the interview process and is moving closer to picking his nominee. His current top contenders are federal appeals court Judges Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge, said a person familiar with Trump's thinking. Here's a look at the current top contenders:
Amy Coney Barrett
Barrett might be the most politically provocative pick here. When Barrett was being confirmed last year to serve as a federal appeals court judge, some Democrats raised concerns about her religiosity, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., being rebuked by some for telling Barrett that "the dogma lives loudly within you, and that's of concern." Picking Barrett would invite Democrats who are already angry about Senate Republicans' sidelining of Obama administration court pick Merrick Garland to overreach on an even bigger stage and could give Trump the kind of culture war he loves.
Barrett is also the leading female candidate, which could help her deal with questions about Roe v. Wade. At 46, she's the youngest on this list, which would make Trump's conservative allies happy about her potential longevity on the court's right flank. And she hails from Indiana, where vulnerable Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly may feel compelled to vote for her, as he voted last year for Neil Gorsuch.
However, Trump has reportedly said he wants someone from Harvard or Yale universities, and Barrett isn't that. She attended Rhodes College and went to law school at the University of Notre Dame, where she was a professor until last year. She's also relatively inexperienced, having served on the appeals court for less than a year. That means it's less certain how she might rule going forward.
Kavanaugh might be the most conventional pick. He has two Yale degrees, experience in both the George W. Bush administration and the Justice Department, and a 12-year history of decisions on a federal appeals court.
He is reportedly a favorite of White House counsel Donald McGahn, who is running the selection and confirmation process for the White House.
Kavanaugh also wrote in 2009 that presidents should be insulated from investigation and lawsuits while in office — a view that could endear him to a president who faces multiple legal issues of his own.
However, that long history of decisions could be 53-year-old Kavanaugh's biggest liability.
While he has the stamp of approval from the Federalist Society, conservatives have raised concerns about a few of those decisions being a little too wishy-washy, including one on the Affordable Care Act. The fact that Kavanaugh clerked for Kennedy probably won't help on that front.
Perhaps most problematic: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is reportedly cautioning against choosing Kavanaugh. It's one thing for the pick to have to win over Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; it's another if Paul were to balk. That could actually imperil the nominee in a party-line 51-49 Senate.
Kethledge is an appeals court judge and his decade on the court might be his biggest asset.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt wrote in the Washington Post that Kethledge, 51, has clear "originalist" credentials and bears the most similarities to new Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch. Trump clearly loves reminiscing about that chapter of his presidency, and Kethledge could give him a chance to relive it.
However, he's also not an Ivy Leaguer, having attended the University of Michigan and its law school. And he might be the least-exciting pick on this list, which could be a strike against him for the reality TV-star president.
Others to consider
Thomas Haridman, 52, was the other finalist last year when Trump wound up picking Gorsuch. People keep coming back to his blue-collar upbringing.
Amul Thapar, 49, is the sleeper pick, and Trump likes surprises. Thapar is the finalist with the most diverse background, as the son of Indian immigrants. He would be the first Asian-American writ large on the Supreme Court.
Joan Larsen, 49, isn't always on these shortlists, but she's been on his interview list. If Trump wants to go safe and pragmatic and wants to ward off the Roe questions, she might be a surprise pick.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.