Washington • Sen. Mike Lee is reportedly no longer under consideration by the White House to fill the Supreme Court vacancy but that’s not stopping conservative groups from pushing the Utah Republican for the high court.
More than two dozen conservative movement leaders – including billionaire GOP donor Rebekah Mercer, the head of FreedomWorks and Sen. Rand Paul – urged the president to pick Lee because he is a “principled conservative who is committed to preserving the Constitution.”
“We need a Supreme Court justice who is not only wise and principled, but brave” the letter to President Donald Trump says. “Mike Lee is one candidate on the president’s list who has proven to be all three.”
“Sen. Lee has a proven record of standing up for principle, for doing the right thing for the right reasons, even in the face of withering criticism,” the signers added.
Reps. Mia Love and Chris Stewart and former Rep. Jason Chaffetz signed the letter, along with Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes.
Lee is on a list of 25 potential Supreme Court nominees Trump unveiled during his 2016 campaign, though the president has apparently narrowed his list to three or four candidates. Trump has winnowed the possible short list to federal judges Brett M. Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge and Amy Coney Barrett, The Washington Post reported.
Trump also spoke with Lee by phone earlier this week, though the Daily Caller News Foundation said that Lee was no longer a front-runner to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is stepping down later this month.
Lee, who said he would “not say no” to an appointment to the high court, was a critic of Trump during the 2016 election, saying he should step down after release of the “Access Hollywood” tape. He acknowledged the day after the election that he had voted for independent Evan McMullin as a protest.
Lee previously earned the backing of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who said Lee would be the best choice.
Former Sen. Jim DeMint, who had previously led the Heritage Foundation, tweeted earlier this week that it was the “courage of convictions” that matters most in Washington, and Lee has that.
“Mike has the battle scars to show he doesn’t back down from a fight & has waged every fight with the kindness and generosity and thoughtfulness that define his character,” DeMint tweeted. “He has the mind to dominate his confirmation hearing, and the character to even win a few Democrat votes.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has participated in the confirmation process for every sitting justice, said in an op-ed in the Deseret News that he “will lift heaven and earth to see the president’s nominee across the finish line.”
Hatch, who frequently talks to the president, also hinted at the gender of the potential nominee, calling that person a “her” and “she.”
“Just as he did with Neil Gorsuch, the president has promised to nominate an impartial judge, a wise and seasoned jurist committed to upholding the Constitution at all costs,” Hatch wrote. “But no matter the nominee’s background or credentials, progressives will do everything they can to paint her as a closet partisan, if not an outright extremist. They will press, prod, and pry to unearth a radical agenda where none is to be found.”
Barrett is the only woman on the reported short list.
Hatch’s office did not immediately respond to a question of whether his wording was intentional to push Barrett to the top of the list.