WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump today nominated conservative Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Judge, a decision that could have far-reaching implications on everything from abortion to guns to immigration and alter the balance of the ideologically divided apex court.
President Trump picked Justice Kavanaugh, a conservative stalwart who has deep ties to the Republican establishment, from an original list of 25 judges, which also included prominent Indian-American judge Amul Thapar.
Justice Kavanaugh's nomination has set the stage for a bruising confirmation battle as Democrats immediately vowed to oppose the President's choice of the vacancy created by 81-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement.
Announcing Justice Kavanaugh's nomination in a prime-time event at the East Room of the White House, Trump described the 53-year-old from Maryland, currently a judge in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as one with "impeccable credentials and one of the finest legal minds of our times".
The nomination battle will likely ignite a firestorm on Capitol Hill as it comes just a year after Republicans changed the rules of the Senate in order to push through the nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch, the first nominee of Trump's presidency.
Justice Kavanaugh's nomination is President Trump's second appointment to the highest court, potentially allowing him to shape the US for a generation after he demits the White House.
Each of the nine apex court justices holds a lifetime appointment.
Judge Kavanaugh is relatively young, meaning he could serve for decades to come.
His appointment will not change the ideological tilt of a court that already has a 5-4 conservative majority, but he could nevertheless shift the bench further right, media reports said.
Trump's decision will have far-reaching implications for America on everything from abortion to guns to immigration.
Trump said Kavanaugh was an incredibly qualified nominee who deserved a swift confirmation and robust bipartisan support.
"Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications, and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law. Throughout legal circles, he is considered a judge's judge, a true thought leader among his peers," he said.
Prior to becoming a judge, he served in the George W Bush administration, first as an associate counsel and then senior associate counsel, and subsequently as assistant to the president and the staff secretary.
Replacing Justice Kennedy with a committed conservative will fundamentally alter the balance of the Supreme Court, The New York Times commented.
If confirmed, it would create a bloc of five conservative justices who could move the apex court further to the right.
While the Republican leadership hailed Trump's choice, Democrats vowed to oppose his nomination.
"Judge Kavanaugh should not be allowed anywhere near our nation's highest bench. Let's be clear: a vote for Kavanaugh would be a vote to rip health care from American families and deny women their constitutional right to make their own health care decisions," Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez said.
"Brett Kavanaugh represents a fundamental threat to the promise of justice and equality, which is why I am announcing that I will oppose his nomination to the Supreme Court," said Indian-origin Senator Kamala Harris.
House Judiciary Committee Member Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said Trump was taking "swipes at vulnerable communities and hardworking families with every chance he gets".
"Brett Kavanaugh comes from a roster of extremists approved by right-wing organisations that are committed to pushing a regressive agenda. This appointment is the most momentous in a generation and it will affect historic decisions made for the next half century " we can't let that time be defined by partisan rulings that hurt our communities and strip away our rights," Jayapal said.
On the other hand, almost the entire Republican leadership stood solidly behind Trump on his nomination, including his bitter critic Senator John McCain.
"In selecting Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy left by Justice Kennedy, President Trump has chosen a nominee with impeccable credentials and a strong record of upholding the Constitution," McCain said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump has made a superb choice.
Republican leaders firmly believe that Kavanaugh could be instrumental in pitching the ideological makeup of the court to the right and leaving a conservative imprint on the law for a generation.
They also see the coming confirmation fight as a chance to galvanise their voters ahead of this year's mid-term elections, where the Republican party's 51-seat Senate majority is at risk.
A graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, Kavanaugh clerked on the Supreme Court for Justice Kennedy, and for judges on the Third and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals.
"I am deeply honoured to fill his seat in the Supreme Court," said Judge Kavanaugh.
"My judicial philosophy is straightforward. A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written and must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent," he said.
Praising Trump, he said that throughout the process, he witnessed firsthand the President's appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary.