- Associated Press - Sunday, July 1, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee has talked to the White House about a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, he said Friday.

But Lee wouldn’t say whether his name is among the potential front-runners.

The Utah Republican’s discussions were private and came as part of his position on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees judicial nominations, he said. “We talk about all judicial vacancies, and we talk about this one,” he said following a speech at the Sutherland Institute in downtown Salt Lake City.

Lee is one of 25 people President Donald Trump has said he’s considering to replace Kennedy, a key swing vote on the court who announced his retirement Wednesday. He has been endorsed by conservatives including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Lee has said he wouldn’t refuse the nomination if offered.

Trump said Friday he has narrowed the list of potential nominees down to at least five, including two women, and planned to begin interviewing possible candidates Monday. He and other White House officials have spoken with at least 18 senators about the nomination process, the White House has said.

The president told reporters aboard Air Force One he plans to announce his choice on July 9.

Trump called Lee, the sole non-judge on the list, “an outstanding talent.”

“I actually saw him on television last night where he said he’d love the job. Usually they don’t say that,” he said.

Lee has been critical of the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, which he has said invented abortion rights and inserted a poisonous idea into American law.

But he declined to say Friday whether the 1973 decision ought to be overturned, instead referring to a judicial doctrine asserting prior court rulings should usually be treated as precedent.

The doctrine is one “the court has honored and has honored not without good reason because of a desire to not have laws change from one day to another,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that a decision can’t be overruled.”

Trump said Friday he wouldn’t ask candidates about their position on Roe v. Wade.

A nominee who strictly opposes abortion rights may have a difficult time receiving confirmation in the Senate, where Republicans have a narrow 51-49 majority.

Lee’s brother, Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee, is also on the public shortlist of 25 prospective candidates for the high court seat.

“He is as bright and capable a lawyer and as sharp a legal mind as anyone I’ve ever worked with,” Mike Lee said Friday. “If he were chosen, it would be to the great benefit of the country.”

Trump unveiled the public shortlist during the 2016 presidential campaign and updated it last fall. It was written with advice from conservative legal scholars and includes six women.

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