President Donald Trump didn’t have to look very far for one of the contenders to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Kate Comerford Todd is a deputy White House counsel, helping navigate Trump’s White House through a thicket of legal issues. It’s a role she knows well, having served in the counsel’s office during the administration of George W. Bush.
Todd, 45, is the only lawyer on Trump’s shortlist who has not previously been a judge, though she’s hardly unfamiliar with the high court, having clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas.
Her experience is otherwise diverse: She’s twice counseled the White House, worked at a prestigious law firm and represented the interests of a leading business advocacy group.
“She is absolutely brilliant,” according to Helgi Walker, a partner at the Gibson Dunn law firm who also served as a Thomas law clerk and in the White House counsel’s office under Bush.
“She is thoughtful, caring, considerate. She always tries to get it right, no matter what she’s doing.”
Trump has signaled that he intends to name a woman for the third Supreme Court selection of his administration.
Amy Coney Barrett is emerging as the early favorite after he met with her on Monday before leaving the White House to campaign in Ohio.
Todd was viewed as the favorite of White House lawyers, but there were concerns that the confirmation process would not be as smooth for a first-time jurist, according to people familiar with the situation.
Her lack of prior experience as a judge could become a point of contention during the confirmation process, though it also means that she has no paper trail of court opinions for Democrats to exploit the way they did with Trump’s two other nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Her career, though a diverse blend of private practice and government work, has not produced some of the high-profile moments of the other Supreme Court contenders who have issued notable opinions. At the White House, for instance, much of her work has taken place outside of public view and outside the headlines.
But lawyers who are familiar with her work describe her as exceptionally smart and hard-working, a principled and independent-minded attorney whose originalist view of the Constitution is in line with other conservative jurists on the court.
“When I went to Kate with a question, I always found that I got really good advice, really thoughtful advice. She’s just really smart,” said Will Consovoy, who worked at the same law firm as Todd.
Adam Mortara, a lawyer and conservative legal activist who has known Todd for more than 20 years and also clerked for Thomas, recalled how Todd seemed to take to heart the justice’s admonition that backing down on an issue of principle is a “pathway to personal destruction”
“I think the first person that I ever met, other than Justice Thomas, who I realized fully embodied that principle is Kate,” he said.
“I’ve never seen her back down on an issue of principle. I’ve never seen her compromise her principles.”
He added, “On issues of right or wrong, or on issues of what the law is or isn’t, there is no moving her.”
Besides her career in the White House, the Harvard Law School alumna has also worked at a prominent law firm — now called Wiley Rein — and served as the former senior vice president and chief counsel for the U.S. Chamber Litigation Center, which is the litigation arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
She’s moved comfortably in conservative legal circles, participating in conferences sponsored by the Federalist Society and writing an enthusiastic letter on Kavanaugh’s behalf when he was being considered for a seat on the Washington-based federal appeals court.
She has decried executive regulation of businesses, including government overreach that she described at one Federalist Society as “deliciously terrible.” More than a decade earlier, she submitted a friend-of-the-court brief challenging the constitutionality of a board that was created by Congress to regulate the auditing of public companies.
Her position in that brief, and her work on behalf of the U.S. Chamber Litigation Center, reflects a decidedly pro-business bent.
“Kate’s just always all about getting the right answer, even if it takes all night,” Walker, a friend and former colleague, said.
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