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The GOP, The Supreme Court And The Senate

NOEL KING, HOST:

The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court will have far-reaching implications for the court but also for the midterm elections this year. Here's President Trump speaking on Wednesday night after Kennedy's announcement.

SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Justice Kennedy's retirement makes the issue of Senate control one of the vital issues of our time, the most important thing we can do.

KING: OK. For more on how American conservatives are thinking about all this, we're joined by a top Republican fundraiser, Steven Law. Steven Law is the president and CEO of the superPAC American Crossroads. That's an organization linked to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and dedicated to electing Republicans to the Senate. Thank you for being here, Mr. Law.

STEVEN LAW: Thank you.

KING: All right. So your organization released a major ad buy in 10 swing states yesterday morning to support a conservative to replace Anthony Kennedy on the bench. Let's take a listen to one of those ads.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: A new vacancy on the Supreme Court.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Justice Anthony Kennedy will be retiring.

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: And our freedom hangs in the balance. But the far left will stop at nothing to block President Trump's choice.

KING: All right. Our freedom hangs in the balance. A lot of observers, including President Trump, have seen several notable recent rulings from the court as being in line with conservative values. So I'm curious - what are the issues where you think freedom hangs in the balance?

LAW: Well, we think it's important that, as voters in various states, particularly the states where we've run these ads, that they start to focus on what's at stake. It's important that we continue the mainstream conservative jurisprudence that we've seen from the Supreme Court in recent years and that we put another justice on the court who's in that same conservative mainstream that we have with Justice Neil Gorsuch.

KING: It is worth noting that a lot of progressives think it's their constituents' freedom that hangs in the balance. People say they are concerned about abortion rights. They are concerned about same-sex marriage. They are concerned about voting rights. What do you think?

LAW: I think if you look at, you know, this unprecedented step that President Trump took during the campaign to issue a list of 25 jurists and one senator, Mike Lee, who he would pick from and from whom he also chose Neil Gorsuch, what you see is a list of mainstream conservative jurists - people who are dedicated to strict construction of laws and the Constitution but who also are conservative in their view of judicial philosophy and the role of stare decisis. And we'll have a good debate in the confirmation process that will be very important to all this where the views of whoever the president's nominee is will be fully explored.

KING: Let me ask you about that list of 25 names. Are there any - is there one that stands out to you as the best possible pick?

LAW: You know, I think there are several who stand out as compelling picks. You know, the person widely rumored as the runner-up to Neil Gorsuch, Thomas Hardiman, has a great personal story - a kind of hardscrabble upbringing. Obviously, Brett Kavanaugh of Maryland really kind of comes out of the Kennedy school, so he would have certain things in his favor. Also, Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana had a fairly contentious confirmation process. But it's that kind of experience that prepares you for what will, you know, almost inevitably be a fairly grueling confirmation process for this judicial position, as well.

KING: Let me ask you one more question - this week, after political newcomer and self-identified socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat out Joe Crowley, the number four in the Democratic leadership, you wrote on Facebook that this is a game changer. What did you mean by that?

LAW: Well, I think it means that the Democratic Party is going through an ideological identity crisis, and it will make every Democrat who has to vote on this be at least as worried about the national Democratic Party and how it's shifting leftward as they are about what their own constituents want if they want them to support President Trump's choice.

KING: Steven Law is the president and CEO of the conservative superPAC American Crossroads.

Steven, thank you.

LAW: Thank you, as well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.