If the way to Trump’s heart is through his family, Judge Thomas Hardiman should be a shoo-in to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement.
Hardiman served on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals with Trump’s older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, who gave her strong endorsement of the jurist, who turns 53 on Sunday.
But more goes into Trump’s decisionmaking process than familial advice.
Hardiman was the second in consideration the last time the president had to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, but ultimately lost out to Neil Gorsuch.
So what does Hardiman bring to the table that could help him inch by this time?
One thing Trump’s Republican base likes is Hardiman’s record on the Second Amendment.
As a federal appeals judge, Hardiman ruled that two convicted felons should not be barred from access to guns because their crimes were not violent in nature, and would not predict the use of gun violence for illicit purposes. He also dissented in an opinion that allowed New Jersey to regulate handgun use in public, a case that the Supreme Court declined to review on several occasions.
But while his career has afforded him the opportunity to weigh in on cases having to do with controversial issues such as the death penalty, where he has at times sided with inmates and at other times sided with the state, Hardiman has never had the opportunity to weigh in on one hot-button issue that has become central in the conversation around Kennedy’s successor: abortion.
That could be an asset. While his generally conservative credentials can lead court watchers to conclude that he would take a more anti-abortion approach than Kennedy, liberal critics would have trouble nailing down examples of “open hostility” to Roe v. Wade, the likes of which Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsLooking to the past to secure America's clean energy future Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike MORE (R-Maine) said would be a non-starter for her in confirmation votes.
The closest guess one might get is his ruling in a case against the so-called birth control mandate in ObamaCare, which required organizations to pay for plans that offer contraception. He sided with a religious group, Little Sisters of the Poor, that claimed the law violated its religious freedom.
Another factor in Hardiman’s favor? He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in a 95-0 vote to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in 2007.
Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyHouse passes bill to ensure abortion access in response to Texas law Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Bipartisan senators to hold hearing on 'toxic conservatorships' amid Britney Spears controversy MORE Jr. (D-Pa.), who is up for reelection next year, announced his confirmation in a press statement with then-Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).
“Thomas Hardiman has established a solid record on the District Court,” Casey said. “He is well qualified to serve on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.”
Hardiman is undoubtedly conservative, but his resume may offer some broader appeal. When he graduated from Notre Dame, he was the first person in his family to finish college. His father was a cab driver, and Hardiman kept the family business alive while he put himself through school, driving his way through Georgetown Law.
Though he was active in Republican politics, his wife’s family are prominent Democrats, and include the Democratic district attorney of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. He speaks fluent Spanish, studied abroad in Mexico, and later volunteered at Ayuda, an immigration legal aid office in D.C. He described one of his cases there as among “the most important” in his career.
When Trump chose Gorsuch over Hardiman last year, the Pittsburgh-based conservative took the news with aplomb and played along, taking the media on a wild goose chase. Knowing that reporters were following him, he drove in the direction on Washington, D.C., fueling speculation that he was headed toward a big reveal at the White House. He stopped in Altoona, Pa.
Will the second time be the charm for Hardiman? Or will he end up like Edith Jones, the second in consideration when former President George H. W. Bush picked David Souter for the court, who made frequent appearances on the SCOTUS short list, but never got the nod?
Already, reports indicate that he’s on the longer end of Trump’s short list.