The Note: More than a divided court in the balance

The battle for Justice Anthony Kennedy’s swing seat on the Supreme Court will play out with different rules governing a familiar game. The man now at the center of this fight relishes the combat, doesn’t care about the old rules anyway and knows he’s facing down opponents with few good options.

It’s trite to say the stakes could not be higher, but it’s true. There’s enough justified concern out there to make the battles of the last 18 months seem like warm-up acts for a hot summer.

The Note: More than a divided court in the balance

Eric Thayer/Getty Images, FILEU.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy is seen during a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House, April 10, 2017, in Washington, DC.

It’s also trite to say that elections have consequences, but that’s also true. President Donald Trump gets to make this choice, and he has a GOP Senate majority — and a worried crop of red-state Democrats up for re-election — to ratify his choice, barring something unexpected.

The Democrats have a waking nightmare along with a bad hand that they could play into something worse. What may help their chances in House races may hurt them in the Senate, with an already restive base primed for the fight of all fights with Trump on any number of fronts.

It all means more tensions or worse for a divided nation. Much more than a divided court is in the balance.

The RUNDOWN with John Verhovek

Republicans had their eyes set on the U.S. Senate seat held by North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp long before Donald Trump ever came on the political scene, but last night the president wasted no time in joining the party’s pile-on.

“You need a senator that doesn’t just talk like they’re from North Dakota, you need a senator that votes like they’re from North Dakota,” Trump said Wednesday night in Fargo alongside the GOP nominee running against Heitkamp, Rep. Kevin Cramer.

Heitkamp, who often touts her working relationship with Trump, is one of 10 Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018 in states he won in the 2016 election, and the wily politician wasted no time in casting the president’s visit as a plus for the state, while maintaining her own political independence.

The Note: More than a divided court in the balance

Susan Walsh/APSen. Heidi Heitkamp talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, 2018.

“I don’t answer to a political party or president, I only answer to North Dakotans who deserve an independent voice in the Senate,” Heitkamp said in statement sent out immediately after the rally. “That’s why I’ve always been eager to work across the aisle – including with the president — to get results for our state, and today’s rally hasn’t changed that.”

Cramer played up his standing as a stalwart Trump ally, pledging to be with the president “100 percent” at every turn.

The race is a classic collision of national trends and local politics, especially when it comes to Trump’s tariff policy, a policy that he defended Wednesday night but weighs heavy on the state’s large farming population.

Last night showed the race will no doubt be a political rollercoaster all the way through November.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

Although President Trump has yet to announce his second Supreme Court nominee, his unknown pick is already becoming a campaign topic in the Indiana Senate race.

Drawing party lines in a red state Trump won by nearly 20 points, Republican Senate nominee Mike Braun is predicting his opponent across the aisle, incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly, will support whomever Trump nominates. But the prediction comes with an allegation that could reflect the nation’s partisan divide — in a statement, Braun says the red-state Democrat will support the president’s choice because “it’s an election year.”

The Note: More than a divided court in the balance

Michael Conroy/APRepublican Senate candidate Mike Braun thanks supporters after winning the republican primary in Whitestown, Ind., May 8, 2018.

“I expect Senator Donnelly to vote for President Trump’s nominee to distract from his liberal record,” Braun said in a statement. “Hoosiers won’t be fooled by Senator Donnelly’s election year pandering.”

As one of a handful of moderate Democrats in the Senate, Donnelly has voted with Trump 62 percent of the time — including being the third Democrat to back Justice Neil Gorsuch at the time of his nomination.

Ahead of November, Donnelly has not indicated immediate early support for the future Supreme Court hopeful.

“Part of my job as a United States Senator is to carefully consider the president’s judicial nominees, including for the Supreme Court,” Donnelly said in a statement. “I will thoroughly review the record and qualifications of any nominee presented to the Senate.”

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Trump participates in a roundtable and then gives remarks at a breakfast with supporters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, starting at 11:30 a.m. EDT.
  • The president participates in a groundbreaking event at 1:25 p.m. EDT and then delivers remarks at a Foxconn facility in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin.
  • Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray testify before the House Judiciary committee on FBI Oversight and DOJ actions surrounding the 2016 election at 9 a.m.
  • More than 1,000 women from 47 states march in Washington, D.C., to protest family detention starting at 10 a.m.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosts the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report Launch at 2 p.m.
  • QUOTE OF THE DAY

    “For a member of the legal profession it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court. Please permit me by this letter to express my profound gratitude for having had the privilege to seek in each case how best to know, interpret, and defend the Constitution and the laws that must always conform to its mandates and promises.” — Retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in his letter to President Trump Wednesday.

    NEED TO READ

    Anthony Kennedy, crucial Supreme Court swing vote, retiring after 3 decades. Kennedy said he will officially retire on July 31 and that he decided to step down based on his deep desire to spend more time with his loved ones, even though his family encouraged him to stay on the Court. (Bill Hutchinson and Stephanie Ebbs) https://abcn.ws/2KsW3Qv

    What Kennedy’s retirement could mean for the Supreme Court: ANALYSIS. ABC News Supreme Court contributor and Cardozo law professor Kate Shaw weighed in on what Kennedy’s retirement could mean for the future of the Court. (Stephanie Ebbs) https://abcn.ws/2yOUMBR

    McConnell wants Supreme Court nominee vote by fall, Democrats say next year is fair. On the heels of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s stunning retirement announcement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated flatly Wednesday that the Senate will vote on his replacement this fall. (Mariam Khan) https://abcn.ws/2tydIQg

    Trump’s Supreme Court guru confident Kennedy replacement will be confirmed before midterms. “I would think he would want to have someone confirmed before the midterms,” attorney Leonard Leo who has served as an advisor on the Supreme Court to President Trump told ABC News. Sources tell ABC News that the five current front-runners include Thomas Hardiman, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar. (Jonathan Karl and John Santucci) https://abcn.ws/2lFHSgk

    Trump rallies in North Dakota, says next SCOTUS pick should serve ’40, 45 years’. President Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail Wednesday in North Dakota, the site of one of this cycle’s most pivotal and competitive U.S. Senate races.