The decision: Trump says he'll announce SCOTUS pick on July 9, down to five candidates

He and LeBron should totally team up and announce their decisions together in a very special two-hour broadcast live from the Statue of Liberty’s torch.

No, no, that won’t work. Their egos are each so big that the event would fall through when they couldn’t agree on who gets to go second.

Anyway. Ten days. Five candidates. The presidential Twitter event of a lifetime.

President Trump said Friday he has narrowed his list of Supreme Court finalists to five candidates, including two women, and plans to announce his nominee on July 9, one day before he is scheduled to depart for a week-long European trip…

In his Air Force One conversation with reporters, during the quick afternoon flight to New Jersey from Washington, Trump singled out one potential candidate for the court, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), indicating that Lee was pining for the nomination.

“He said he’d like the job,” Trump said. “Usually they don’t say that.”

Yeah, well, Lee shouldn’t get his hopes up. Who are the lucky five, though? Ramesh Ponnuru floated this list a few days ago:

Before you say “What would a National Review guy know about the Trump White House’s short list?”, remember that POTUS has outsourced his judicial scouting to movement conservative outfits like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. An NRO editor is quite likely to have an inside scoop about this. Hugh Hewitt floated his own list:

Guy Benson spoke to “a source with knowledge of this process” and asked if Ponnuru and Hewitt are on the right track. The source said with “pretty high” confidence that they are, that their combined lists are the final five. Although, er, there are seven judges named between them. Could it be that POTUS is actually looking at seven finalists? It could:

But wait — Mike Lee seems to be a shortlister and he’s not named by either Ponnuru or Hewitt. My guess is that the final five are Lee, Kavanaugh, Barrett, Kethledge, and Joan Larsen, a former Michigan Supreme Court justice who was elevated by Trump to the federal appellate circuit last year. If that’s the list, it’s noteworthy for the number of midwesterners on it. Kethledge and Larsen each sit on the Sixth Circuit, which covers Michigan and Ohio; Barrett sits on the Seventh Circuit, which covers Wisconsin. POTUS clearly wants to tip his cap somehow to the Rust Belt states that delivered for him in 2016 and maybe break up the Harvard/Yale coastal monopoly on the Supreme Court. All three midwestern judges went to midwestern law schools — Kethledge at Michigan, Larsen at Northwestern, Barrett at Notre Dame.

The other two in the mix are probably Amul Thapar and Tom Hardiman. Hardiman sits on the Third Circuit, which includes Pennsylvania, another state that went red for Trump. He was a shortlister last year before Gorsuch got the call. Thapar was a federal judge in Kentucky for nearly 10 years and has a big fan in Mitch McConnell, which helped land him an appointment to the Sixth Circuit last year. Maybe Trump has him on the list as a courtesy to Cocaine Mitch.

If I had to bet the monthly beer money on anyone, I’d bet on Barrett. She’s got the midwestern thing happening; at 46, she’s very young even by the standards of young SCOTUS nominees; she would help Trump’s and the GOP’s image with women, as the party hasn’t had a female SCOTUS appointee since Sandra Day O’Connor more than 35 years ago (sorry, Harriet Miers); and she is by all accounts a true pro-life warrior, a solid if not certain bet to drop the axe on Roe if given the chance. It’s probably true that Collins and Murkowski and red-state Democrats would be more reluctant to bork a woman nominee than they would a man, and since Barrett was confirmed to the Seventh Circuit just nine months ago (55-43), every senator who voted for her then would be hard-pressed to justify flipping to no now.

There’s another reason why I think Barrett is a favorite among social conservatives, articulated by Michael Brendan Dougherty in his NRO piece today. Barrett brought out the worst in some Democrats during her confirmation hearing last year because they’re well aware that she’s a devout Catholic and that makes them suspicious of what she might do on abortion. It was Barrett of whom Dianne Feinstein infamously said, “The dogma lives loudly within you,” referring to her Catholic faith — and Feinstein didn’t mean that as a compliment. What she meant, clearly, is that Barrett couldn’t be trusted to put the law above her religion, which is a wee bit too close for comfort to imposing a religious test for office. Dougherty thinks a super-charged SCOTUS hearing would lead Senate Democrats into even more garbage along those lines at the hearing, which is probably true. Whether the public would care is a separate question, but he’s right that confirming Barrett under those circumstances would signal to the left that “Believing Catholics and Evangelicals will continue to make their contributions to the common good of this country. You will live with us. If we’re going to have peace, we’re going to make it together.”