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Trump on SCOTUS nominee: “We have to pick a great one”

“We have to pick one that’s going to be there for 40 years, 45 years,” the president said at a rally on the day Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement.

President Trump Hosts President Of Portugal Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa At The White House Alex Edelman (Pool)/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

“We have to pick a great one,” President Donald Trump declared at a rally in North Dakota, about his next Supreme Court Justice pick. “We have to pick one that’s going to be there for 40 years, 45 years.”

“We need intellect, we need so many things,” Trump said. “So many elements go into the making of a great justice of the Supreme Court.”

Trump dropped by Fargo, North Dakota, on Wednesday to stump for Republican Senate candidate Kevin Cramer, who’s challenging incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp for her seat in a pivotal midterm race. This was Trump’s second rally this week, but on Wednesday, he had something new to celebrate: The chance to pick the next Supreme Court justice and tip the balance on the court for the next generation.

“Justice Anthony Kennedy, a very special guy, also just announced a little while ago his retirement from the United States Supreme Court,” Trump said.

Trump called Kennedy a “great man,” adding that he was honored that Kennedy chose to retire while he was in office. “He felt confident in me to make the right choice and carry on his great legacy. That’s why he did it,” Trump said — and the crowd erupted in cheers.

Kennedy, who’s the longest-serving member of the court, said he would step down on July 31. He had long been considered the “swing vote” on some of the most high-profile Supreme Court decisions of the last few decades, from legalizing same-sex marriage to watering down the Voting Rights Act.

Trump didn’t go into details about Kennedy’s legacy, but did honor his “lifetime of distinguished service” and his dedication to “the cause of liberty.”

He then pivoted to Neil Gorsuch, the newest member of the Court, whom Trump appointed after Senate Republicans blocked Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016. Gorsuch clerked for Kennedy. “Did you ever hear of justice Neil Gorsuch?” Trump asked, to more cheers from the crowd. “He’s doing great. He’s a star,” Trump said. “And Justice Kennedy is a star, and we appreciate it.”

Trump also used the Supreme Court vacancy to make a plug for a Republican Senate.

“Heidi will vote ‘no’ to any pick we make to the Supreme Court,” Trump told the crowd. Heitkamp voted to confirm Gorsuch, one of just three Democrats to do so.

Trump noted, rightly, that Kennedy’s retirement underscored the critical importance of Senate control, calling it “one of the vital issues of our time.”

Trump, of course, is in the position to reshape a court for a generation, likely replacing the “swing vote” of Kennedy with an even more conservative justice. And as Vox’s Ezra Klein points out, liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are 85 and 79, Trump may have another nomination before his term is out. Democrats, currently in the minority in the Senate, are right now — barring Republican defectors — almost helpless to block him.

“Democrats [will] rewrite the Constitution any way they want to do it,” Trump warned. They’ll threaten Second Amendment rights, he said, and “throw open the jailhouse doors, and destroy your freedoms.”

“We must elect more Republicans,” Trump declared. “We have to do that.”