22:31 GMT21 October 2020
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    US President Donald Trump is set to announce his Supreme Court nominee on Wednesday evening, and one previously dark-horse candidate is now looking like the solid frontrunner.

    Thomas Hardiman, 51, currently a 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals judge, appears to be poised to be recommended as the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Hardiman was voted onto the appeals court in 2007, with a vote of 95-0, earning a Democratic stamp of approval in the form of nods from both Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Dianne Feinstein.

    This previous approval may go a long way, as Democrats have vowed to put up a serious fight, still angry about President Barack Obama’s nominee being blocked.

    The prospect of Hardiman being appointed is raising concern within some of the more conservative DC think tanks, however. 

    At the start of Hardiman’s career, he studied to be fluent in Spanish, and traveled to Mexico, before doing pro bono work for Ayuda, a DC-based immigration clinic. Many have noted that his work representing undocumented immigrants stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s tough stance.

    "I volunteered at Ayuda, in the office, on a regular basis, and I did everything from fingerprinting and interviewing persons of Hispanic origin who entered the country without inspection and who were seeking work authorization permits," Hardiman told Congress during his 2003 confirmation hearing. "That is how I started at Ayuda, and then, when I got my law degree and my license to practice here in the District of Columbia, I represented several immigrants who had entered without inspection."

    Hardiman comes at the recommendation of President Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a fellow 3rd Circuit judge, who some conservatives have noted is pro-choice. President Trump has not publicly weighed in on abortion rights.

    “In short, conservatives don’t need just any judge who is going to make Donald Trump’s sister happy,” read a piece in Red State published on Monday.

    Those who support Hardiman’s appointment describe him as having solid conservative views, as a major defender of the Second Amendment, and being down to earth.

    "He's a really nice person," Carter Phillips, a DC-based lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court more than any other attorney in private practice, told Business Insider. "I think he will be what you see is what you get on the bench. I don't think you're going to see anything quite like Justice Scalia in that regard — I don't expect him to be larger than life…. He appears, by all means, to be a solid conservative."

    A source close to the administration described Hardiman to Sputnik News as someone who would be a “very good choice.”

    The other top contender is Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the Denver-based 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Several networks have reported that they believe him to be the frontrunner, with CNN reporting that a source said that he was told he is the pick.

    Gorsuch, 49, joined the opinion in 2013 siding with the Hobby Lobby that companies should, on religious grounds, not have to offer health insurance that provides female employees with contraceptives.

    “The ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct [what] their religion teaches to be gravely wrong…As they understand it, ordering their companies to provide insurance coverage for drugs or devices whose use is inconsistent with their faith itself violates their faith, representing a degree of complicity their religion disallows,” Gorsuch wrote in his opinion.

    On the other hand, Gorsuch has not been outspoken against abortion rights, leading some conservatives to question if he will go far enough for them on the issue.

    William Pryor, a judge on the Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, has also been named as a possibility.

    Pryor, 54, is an outspoken critic of abortion rights, previously calling Roe v. Wade, "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history."

    During his time as the Alabama attorney general, Pryor defended banning sex toys in the state, writing that, "the commerce in sexual stimulation and auto-eroticism, for its own sake, unrelated to marriage, procreation, or familial relations is an evil, an obscenity…detrimental to the health and morality of the state."

    Pryor is under fire from anti-gay groups, however, for ruling in favor of a transgender woman who was fired after beginning to transition.

    The Alabama judge appears to be out of the running, however, as only Gorsuch and Hardiman are being brought to DC ahead of the announcement.

    Currently, the court is ideologically split, with four conservatives and four liberals. After the next justice is appointed, conservatives will have the majority.

    Trump is scheduled to announce his recommendation at 8 p.m. Wednesday evening.

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    Supreme Court, SCOTUS, Thomas Hardiman, Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump, Washington, DC
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