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President Donald Trump said Friday he will announce his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on July 9, and will spend the weekend interviewing candidates.
Speaking aboard Air Force One, he said that there are at least five candidates on his short list, including two women. Trump also said he did not intend to ask candidates their position on abortion.
Though he may meet with one or two candidates during his stay at his golf club in New Jersey this weekend, "I'll probably interview six or seven" candidates altogether, Trump said.
"Outside of war and peace, of course, the most important decision you make is the selection of a Supreme Court judge, if you get it. As you know, there are many presidents who never get a choice," Trump said.
"It is a group of highly talented, very brilliant, mostly conservative judges," he added.
NBC News previously reported that one of the front-runners, according to those involved in the process, is Brett Kavanaugh of Maryland. He serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and is a former Kennedy law clerk, as was Neil Gorsuch, Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, who succeeded Antonin Scalia.
Kennedy, who plans to retire at the end of July, was a key swing vote who sometimes sided with his liberal colleagues on contentious social issues. The next appointee could shift the balance to a more conservative-learning bench.
On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to appoint a justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark supreme court case that legalized abortion, saying as a candidate that reversing the decision "will happen, automatically" under his presidency.
Kennedy, who was nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, earned praise from both parties for the weight he put on the rights to privacy, dignity and freedom of speech. Kennedy was Reagan's third choice for the vacancy after his nominations of Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg both failed. He was confirmed to the high court in February 1988.
During his more than three decades on the Supreme Court, the justice would break from his fellow conservatives on the bench and side with the court's liberal justices on social issues, such as legalizing gay marriage and protecting legal abortion.
After Kennedy announced his retirement, Trump thanked him for his service. The president also vowed to pick a justice who would serve for decades on the court, which has a lifetime tenure.
"We have to pick a great one. We have to pick one that's going to be there for 40 years, 45 years," Trump said at a campaign rally in Fargo, North Dakota on Wednesday, suggesting that his nominee will be young enough to serve that long on the court.
In recent years, the average retirement age for a Supreme Court justice has been 83. Kennedy is 81.