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If Kavanaugh Doesn’t Make It, Who’s Next?

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh says he’s not going anywhere. He now faces two allegations of sexual assault, including attempted rape when he was in high school and, during his time at Yale, that he exposed himself to a woman “at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away.” The newest charge is according to reporting in The New Yorker. Kavanaugh denies both allegations, and President Trump is standing by him. “Judge Kavanaugh is an outstanding person and I am with him all the way,” Trump said on Monday.

For now, Republicans have rallied around the judge. But what if that support starts to erode as more is revealed or if the planned testimony of Kavanaugh and the woman who says he tried to rape her, Christine Blasey Ford, proves more damaging? The GOP has a deep bench of conservative justices ready to take his place.

Before any of this news broke, in July, with Trump still yet to announce his nominee, conventional wisdom and prediction markets were focused on three names in addition to Kavanaugh’s: Raymond Kethledge, a low-profile Midwesterner; Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic conservative; and Thomas Hardiman, a runner-up to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Over the summer, my colleague Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and I previewed these hypothetical nominees — all of whom are, like Kavanaugh, sitting federal judges. It seems, amid the ugly political storm raging in Washington, worth revisiting their biographies and bona fides.

Raymond Kethledge sits on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati. Like Kavanaugh, he clerked for the now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. He maintains a low profile — to the extent that he recently co-authored a self-help book about the benefits of working in solitude. But he does have strong conservative credentials. During a 2013 controversy involving the Tea Party and its possible targeting by the IRS, he ruled that the IRS needed to turn over documents that it had tried to withhold. And in 2014, the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page declared one of his opinions to be the “opinion of the year” — it was a “legal smackdown” of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Amy Coney Barrett sits on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Chicago. Having never held judicial office before — she clerked for Scalia and later taught at Notre Dame — she was confirmed to her current post by the Senate less than a year ago, by a relatively tight 55-43 vote. Before that vote, Barrett had a run-in with Sen. Dianne Feinstein about Barrett’s Catholic religious beliefs. “The conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said. “And that’s a concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years.” Feinstein was talking about Roe v. Wade. Some have suggested that it “would’ve been a helluva lot harder for the left to demonize a woman” than it has been for them to mount an attack on Kavanaugh.

Thomas Hardiman sits on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia. If you recognize his name, it’s because he’s appeared on lists like this before, having come up frequently in conversation for both Scalia’s vacant seat and Kennedy’s. (Perhaps a third time would be the charm.) He could have a populist appeal that Kavanaugh might lack: He was the first in his family to finish college, and he paid for law school by working as a cabdriver. SCOTUSblog describes him as a supporter of the death penalty and no sympathizer to free speech claims; The Washington Post called him a “Second Amendment extremist.” He was appointed to his current position by George W. Bush in 2007 — he was unanimously confirmed.

There are others beyond those three, as well. Trump’s judicial bench is deep — and deeply conservative, assembled from a roster blessed by the Federalist Society, the prominent conservative legal group. If Kavanaugh remains the nominee, that tells us more about the politics in the air than the singularity of his conservatism.

Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux contributed reporting.

Oliver Roeder is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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