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The legal and political communities are buzzing that President Trump has narrowed his Supreme Court selection to a handful of candidates, less than a wee before he is scheduled to announce his choice.

Trump adviser Leonard Leo told the Washington Examiner that Trump does not have a fixed number of finalists and is subject to change his mind at the last moment — which the president himself acknowledged on Thursday.

Leo, who is advising Trump on the high court vacancy, told the Washington Examiner that Trump has consulted many people about his selection, including the wife of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Leo said Trump has spoken with Mrs. Scalia on several occasions, including after his election win, which gave Trump a better understanding of the person whose seat he would seek to fill.

Leo said several factors are weighing on Trump’s decision-making, including the ages of the candidates. Three of the most-discussed contenders are all under the age of 55, including 3rd Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, who is 51 years old, 11th Circuit Judge William Pryor of Alabama, 54, and 10th Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado, 49.

Thomas Hardiman

Hardiman brings a diverse resume that would immediately set him apart from any of the Supreme Court’s sitting justices. Hardiman, the first in his family to graduate from college, earned a bachelor of arts degree at Notre Dame and a law degree from Georgetown University. He would serve as the only Supreme Court justice without an Ivy League degree.

Carrie Severino, Judicial Crisis Network chief counsel and policy director, said Hardiman has developed a reputation as a man of principle whose critics can respect his jurisprudence even when they disagree with him.

“He’s got a great story and a real nice record of volunteership and public service that he’s continued, not just public service in the sense of working as a federal judge and working for the government but being really involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Severino said.

Democrats looking to thwart Hardiman’s potential nomination may scour his recent financial disclosure forms for potential conflicts of interest. Hardiman’s stocks and other investments, valued at nearly $22 million, according to the National Law Journal, could be weaponized against him during potential confirmation hearings. Hardiman’s 2015 financial disclosure report shows investments in Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Time Warner among others.

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Hardiman’s working relationship with Maryanne Trump Barry, the president’s sister who serves alongside Hardiman on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, would likely undergo additional scrutiny if Trump picks Hardiman. Trump Barry is reportedly boosting Hardiman behind the scenes.

William Pryor

Pryor, a former Alabama attorney general, is a favorite of many conservatives and has an ally in Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the president’s pick to become the next attorney general. Pryor succeeded Sessions as Alabama’s attorney general.

“Pryor is just a clear rising star in the conservative legal movement,” Severino said. “He has a really exceptional record of jurisprudence that hues to the same kind of principles that Justice Scalia [espoused].”

But Pryor has faced difficult confirmation proceedings in the past, which could hamper his chances if Trump is looking for the path of least resistance amid Senate Democrats. Pryor’s comment as a politician that Roe v. Wade was “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history” would likely spur questions from Democrats about his ability to keep his personal politics out of the courtroom.

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Pryor has written about his difficulty getting confirmed as a U.S. circuit judge in 2003 and noted that his beliefs should not factor into his jurisprudence the same way it would for someone in one of the federal government’s political branches.

Leo told the Washington Examiner that the candidates’ previous confirmation fights did not seem to be a determing factor for Trump in selecting the next Supreme Court nominee.

“I don’t think prior confirmations have much of an effect on the way the new administration thinks about these things,” Leo said. “I don’t think the process from the past has had much of an impact on deliberations inside the administration, although I do think there is some recognition of the fact that since this is the Scalia seat, extreme obstruction by the Democrats would be a little unusual because history shows that when the balance of the court [isn’t] really being upset it’s a less contentious confirmation hearing and process.”

Neil Gorsuch

Gorsuch has developed a reputation as a strong writer whose work calls to mind Scalia’s own writing among court-watchers. Gorsuch’s record has shown him to be not only a staunch defender of the originalist jurisprudential philosophy Scalia championed, but also of Scalia’s emphasis on textualism, an adherence to the language of the rule or law at issue.

“Gorsuch really stands out in my mind is his academic credentials are just beyond compare,” Severino said. “He’s got a clear but just really incisive style, and I think that harkens back to Scalia.”

Democrats seeking to block Gorsuch’s nomination will likely question his ability to remain independent from the president. Lena Zwarensteyn, strategic engagement director of the left-leaning American Constitution Society, said she thought all of the individuals on Trump’s short lists posed concerns for maintaining the judiciary’s impartiality.

“I think there are some real concerns about the independence of these nominees,” Zwarensteyn said. “It looks like Trump has some sort of promise from these nominees.”

Zwarensteyn pointed generally to Trump’s public statements as suggesting that any nominee he would select would “do right by him,” which she said would mean that their integrity has been compromised.

Questions about the independence and integrity of Trump’s Supreme Court selection are likely to be a hallmark of Democrats’ questions in future confirmation proceedings. If Senate Democrats look to organize a blockade of Trump’s selection, the president has said he wants Republicans to use the “nuclear option” to lower the threshold required for the president’s allies to overcome Democratic obstruction.

Many of the individuals topping Trump’s list are far younger than several of the sitting justices, meaning Trump’s selection has the prospect of shaping U.S. law for decades to come.

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