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Trump Builds Suspense Over Supreme Court Pick, but Battlelines Are Already Drawn

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump once again kept Americans in suspense over his Supreme Court pick, promising a reality-show style big reveal at a White House event on Monday night.

All the major broadcast networks plan to break into regular programming to cover the announcement, giving the president the same primetime platform to build public support for his choice as he had for Neil Gorsuch, selected just 10 days after Trump took office.

Trump himself has indicated that his selection is down to four prospects: Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the 7th Circuit; Raymond Kethledge, on the 6th Circuit; and Thomas Hardiman, on the 3rd Circuit.

“I have long heard that the most important decision a U.S. President can make is the selection of a Supreme Court Justice – Will be announced tonight at 9:00 P.M.,” Trump tweeted on Monday morning.

Trump kept his choice of Gorsuch under wraps until the last minute, save for just a few outlets that reported correctly on his pick. That day, a CNN news crew caught Hardiman at a Pennsylvania gas station, apparently en route to D.C., leading to speculation that he was the choice. After Gorsuch was announced, there was suspicion that Hardiman made the trip to serve as a kind of decoy.

Trump’s choice is widely expected to solidify the court’s conservative bloc, igniting a summer-long confirmation battle that will play out on the airwaves. Interest groups are already scheduling time for spots in support or against the choice.

Demand Justice said last week that it planned to spend $5 million on ads in opposition. The group already has created a web video warning of Trump’s pick, and is already running spots in Maine and Alaska focusing on Roe v. Wade. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are potential swing votes in the coming Senate confirmation battle.

The conservative group Judicial Crisis Network said it already has purchased a seven-figure ad-buy to support Trump’s nominee, in a spot that warns that “extremists will lie and attack” the choice. The group’s Carrie Severino said they spent $10 million on the campaign for Gorsuch, and indicted they would be prepared to spend a similar amount if necessary to win the confirmation of the next justice.

A half-hour after Trump is scheduled to appear with his choice in an East Room ceremony, Demand Justice, MoveOn, Indivisible, and People for the American Way will gather at the Supreme Court for a rally in opposition.

Public interest groups have been combing the records of the candidates for any signs of their positions on LGBT rights, free speech, health care, and abortion — views that will certainly come up at confirmation hearings. Kavanaugh has the longest record, including a recent opinion where he weighed in on one of the raging debates over the internet, net neutrality.

He opposed the FCC’s decision in 2015 to impose a set of robust net neutrality rules on internet service providers, writing that it should be up to Congress. He also wrote, “Supreme Court precedent establishes that internet service providers have a First Amendment right to exercise editorial discretion over whether and how to carry internet content.”

The appeals court, though, upheld the net neutrality rules, but the Trump-era FCC has since repealed most of them. Still, Hardiman’s decision could be a factor if some kind of challenge eventually makes its way to the high court.

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