Raj shah appt

File photo of White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah speaking during a daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on Feb. 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has appointed his deputy principal press secretary, Raj Shah, to a key role in the contentious process of the appointment of the next justice of the Supreme Court, the White House announced July 2, according to an IANS report.

The Indian American official will take leave from his position to concentrate on getting the president's nominee through the Senate approval process, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said.

"Raj Shah will oversee communications, strategy and messaging coordination with Capitol Hill allies," Sanders said in her statement.

CBS reported June 13 that Shah, along with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, were planning to leave the White House, in what the report called “the latest sign of upheaval in a White House marked by turmoil.”

Getting a successor to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his resignation last week, approved by the Senate before the current session ends this year is a crucial task for Trump.

One of the candidates in a short list of 25 potential nominees announced by Trump during his campaign included Indian American Judge Amul Thapar, who is now a federal judge in Kentucky (see India-West story here). He was one of three potential candidates interviewed by Trump this week.

Thapar is the first Indian American to serve on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the second Indian American federal appellate court judge in U.S. history. He has the backing of his friend, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

"I think he's absolutely brilliant, with the right temperament," McConnell said June 30, but added that he had no idea whom Trump will pick.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights – now led by Indian American civil rights activist Vanita Gupta – noted last year as Thapar was undergoing his Senate confirmation process for the Appeals Court seat that the jurist had a history of controversial rulings, including a case in which he allowed a diabetic inmate to continue to be denied insulin.

But the South Asian Bar Association of North America and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association have lauded the judge.

Vichal Kumar, president of SABA-NA, noted last May after the Senate confirmation: "Judge Thapar's confirmation further cements his legacy as a pioneer, esteemed jurist and dedicated public servant. We anticipate that Judge Thapar's renowned dedication to his craft and commendable judicial temperament will serve him well in this integral position." 

Trump has said that he will announce his choice July 9.

The future orientation of the Supreme Court depends on who will succeed Kennedy, a conservative.

The court is split with five judges nominated by Republican presidents and four by Democrats, ruling on many cases along ideological lines.

Trump already got one of his nominees, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, appointed to the Supreme Court during his first year in office.

A controversial issue overwhelming the debate on the appointment of Kennedy's successor is abortion, which was legalized by a Supreme Court decision in 1973 and may come up again before the court.

The Republicans have slender two-vote lead in the 100-member Senate and at least one senator from the party, Susan Collins has said that keeping abortions legal would be a requirement for her to support the Trump nominee and another, Lisa Murkowski, has previously opposed efforts to overturn the 1973 ruling.

The 49 Democrats and the two independents are expected to oppose any Trump nominee and Shah will have to work with Republicans in Congress to get a majority backing for the candidate.

However, other factors are also at play, such as immigration, the powers of the president and any possible litigation involving the 2016 election of Trump and the alleged Russian interference.

Recently the court ruled, 5-4, in favor of the Trump administration's ban people from eight countries visiting the United States, which opponents characterized as a religious ban on Muslims even though it applied to Venezuela and North Korea.

(With IANS report)

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