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Judicial adviser Leonard Leo on what Trump is looking for in a Supreme Court nominee

Leonard Leo on Trump's Supreme Court list
Judicial adviser Leonard Leo on Trump's Supreme Court list 03:45

After Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement on Wednesday, President Trump said his replacement would come from a list of 25 possible nominees released by the White House last November. Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, advises Mr. Trump on judicial nominations and spoke to the president following Kennedy's announcement. Leo, whose group consists of conservative lawyers who want judges to interpret the law as it was written, said Mr. Trump was looking for three things when he created the list:

"One, extraordinarily well qualified. Two, people who are, in his words, not weak. And thirdly, people who are going to interpret the Constitution the way the framers meant it to be, which is the way he put it, which I thought was an interesting way to do it," Leo said Thursday on "CBS This Morning."

Trump highlights his role in shaping Supreme Court 02:51

Leo said Mr. Trump met with him and suggested the idea of the list.

"It was a novel idea. I told him that no one had ever done it before, but it was an interesting idea because it would tell people where the president stood on the issue of judicial selection. And so he went ahead and decided to do the list," Leo said. 

Asked whether he had a leading contender from the list in mind, Leo repeatedly said no.

"The list is really good," Leo said, adding, "You can throw a dart at that list and in my view you would be fine."

A writer in the National Review once wrote, "No one has been more dedicated to the enterprise of building a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade than the Federalist Society's Leonard Leo…" But Leo denied the description, saying "it's not about Roe v. Wade" for him.

"For constitutional conservatives, that's not what it's about. It's about interpreting the Constitution as it's written and basically interpreting the limits on government power because that's really the way to preserve human dignity in our country," Leo said.

He said Roe v. Wade has been used as a "scare tactic" that's gone decades back to the days of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor nomination.

"And nothing has happened to Roe in that period of time," Leo said.

He said people should not be worried about Roe v. Wade "or any other particular case."

Kennedy, a conservative justice, has sided with liberal members of the court from time to time. Leo said he was "personally disappointed" when Kennedy voted with liberals on abortion rights.

"But the fact of the matter is that Justice Kennedy has been a very important conservative member of the court on many very key issues. Obamacare, gun rights, Citizens United. And in many of those instances I think he understood that the Constitution needed to be interpreted as it's written," Leo said. "So he parted company with conservatives on a few key areas, but he understands the importance of the Constitution and the way it's written."

Kennedy will step down effective July 31.

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