Conservative advocate praises Trump's Supreme Court list

President Trump says he "can't go wrong" with his final four Supreme Court candidates. Sources tell CBS News the contenders are federal appeals court judges Amy Coney Barrett, Thomas Hardiman, Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge. 

According to CBS News chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford, Mr. Trump is focusing most closely on Kavanaugh and Hardiman, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the president they may be easier to confirm.

Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers' group, advises President Trump on judicial nominations and helped create the list of potential Supreme Court candidates for the president.

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Four federal appeals court judges are President Trump's top contenders for nomination to the Supreme Court.

CBS NEws

On "CBS This Morning" Monday, Leo said, "I spoke to him yesterday; he had not yet made a decision. He indicated that he wanted to make a decision tonight – or last night or this morning. So that's what we're waiting for. I'm sure he'll announce this evening, of course, and maybe there will be a bit of a heads-up." 

The president is scheduled to make the announcement at 9 p.m. EDT Monday from the White House; CBS News and CBSN will have live coverage.

Co-host John Dickerson asked Leo, "You helped him craft [the list]. He's known about this issue, he talked about it the campaign. What is he weighing now and why is anything still up in the air?" 

"Well, he spent a pretty significant amount of time over the weekend asking questions, talking to people, thinking about this further," Leo said. "This is a really big decision for him. As you may remember, he spent a good part of his campaign talking about this issue; this was a big reason why people voted for him. So, he wants to get it right like Neil Gorsuch."

"What does 'getting it right' mean? What kinds of questions are on his mind? What's still puzzling him?" Dickerson asked.

"Well, there are three things he looks at: One is being extraordinarily well-qualified. That's looking at the record. But also he wants someone who's going to be courageous, independent and fair. And a lot of that has to do with, you know, talking to people who know these nominees, talking to people who have known them for years, getting a sense of how they dealt with difficult issues in their career. You really have to get to know somebody and that requires not only an interview, but thinking about what happened in the interview and obviously talking to lots of people in the legal profession and elsewhere." 

Leo was asked about the leading contenders, including Thomas Hardiman. "Sources say the president is somewhat enamored with his biography, as someone who's not from the Ivy Leagues and paid for college by being a taxi driver," said co-host Norah O'Donnell. "What are some of his strengths?"

"First of all, he's been both an appeals judge and a trial judge for a number of years, has many judicial opinions, he has demonstrated a commitment to interpreting laws according to their text and their original meanings," Leo replied. "He has a very compelling narrative, as you mentioned, having come from a pretty modest background and having worked his way through college. So I think he's someone who would appeal to many people in our country."

"And Brett Kavanaugh, also a judge, worked for [President] George W. Bush. Some have suggested that he has too long of a paper trail to be confirmed. Your take on that?" asked O'Donnell.

"Well, look. Judge Kavanaugh's really one of the most distinguished jurists in the country. He's written over 300 opinions. He looks a lot like Neil Gorsuch in the sense that he cares very deeply about respecting and enforcing government power. I think he's someone who, again, is very much like the Gorsuch model, which the president has been focusing on."

When asked for his favorite among the names on the list he helped draft, Leo responded, "All the people the president is looking at are great."

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.