Are Trump and McConnell Preparing the Next SCOTUS Pick?

Kentucky judge is a favorite of Senate majority leader

President Donald Trump might be looking to a close associate of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's for his next selection to the Supreme Court. (George LeVines/CQ Roll Call)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing is still underway, but President Donald Trump may have laid the groundwork for his next Supreme Court pick Monday night in the Bluegrass State.

As Trump was on stage for a campaign-style rally at Freedom Hall, members of the Kentucky press corps were reporting that the president intends to nominate Judge Amul Thapar to fill an appellate seat for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The White House made it official on Tuesday.

Thapar is currently a federal district judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky, based in Lexington, and is a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Confirmed toward the end of the George W. Bush administration, he was the first district judge of South Asian descent.

“Throughout his already impressive career of public service, Amul has shown an incredible intellect and an unshakable dedication to the law. He has earned the respect of his colleagues, and I know that he will bring to the 6th Circuit the same wisdom, fairness, and ability that he has shown on the District Court,” McConnell said in a statement. “President Trump made an outstanding choice and I look forward to the Senate’s confirmation of Judge Thapar.”

The 47-year-old Thapar is a former federal prosecutor who served in D.C., Ohio and Kentucky. He was the U.S. attorney for Kentucky’s Eastern District before becoming a federal judge there.

A nomination to a higher court would be no surprise. He appeared on the short list of 21 judges that the Trump campaign finalized in September as potential replacements for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Trump ultimately selected Gorsuch, who also appeared on the list.

Thapar was identified by the National Law Journal as a potential Trump Supreme Court choice who could bring greater diversity to the high court.

The publication mentioned that among his highest profile cases as a federal judge was one in which the Department of Labor was allowed to go ahead with an injunction against Massey Energy Co., for the company’s record of mine safety violations.

While making the leap from the federal district court house in Lexington to the Supreme Court might be an unusual one, getting nominated to the high court after confirmation as a federal appeals court judge in the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit is perhaps a far more likely pathway.

And with McConnell in control of the Senate floor schedule, Thapar might be near the top of the list to be confirmed for the circuit court.

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