U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit judge Brett Kavanaugh on Feb. 25, 2015. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.

Washington Wrap is a weekly look at the biggest legal industry news and Big Law moves shaping the legal business in Washington, D.C. Send tips and lateral moves to Ryan Lovelace at rlovelace@alm.com.

President Donald Trump is expected to nominate a replacement for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy before the justice formally retires from the high court at the end of next month.

Interest groups, activists and lobbyists are busily crafting messages to motivate conservative voters and target vulnerable red-state Democrats running for re-election in November. The Judicial Crisis Network’s seven-figure national television ad buy hit the air soon after Kennedy’s announcement, and a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, One Nation, has unveiled a slew of digital ads about the vacancy aimed at individual Democrats. One Nation is waiting to run similar ads on television.

The super PAC may not have to wait long, as Trump is likely to name Kennedy’s replacement in mid-July, according to sources engrossed in the judicial selection process. CNN has reported July 9 is Trump’s target date to unveil a nominee.

Among the potential candidates garnering the most attention is Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Kavanaugh was appointed by President George W. Bush and previously clerked for Kennedy, as did Trump’s previous Supreme Court pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Justin Walker, a University of Louisville law professor, clerked for both Kavanaugh and Kennedy. Not surprisingly, he said he thinks Kavanaugh stands out above other potential nominees.  Walker, who practiced appellate law at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington before heading for Kentucky, said concerns about Republican presidents picking justices such as David Souter who prove less-than-satisfactory for conservatives don’t apply to Kavanaugh.

“I would bet the farm that Judge Kavanaugh would not go wobbly” on key conservative issues, Walker said. “He doesn’t have a wobbly bone in his body.”

Walker noted that Kavanaugh has sided with the Trump administration on the issue of abortion. Fault lines between anti-abortion activists and abortion- rights proponents are sure to be a defining issue in the Senate confirmation process and the national response to any nominee.

Trump met with three red-state Democrats on Thursday night to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy, namely West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Manchin said on West Virginia radio Friday that between meeting him and Donnelly, Trump also met with Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, a pair of Republicans who often stand opposed to their anti-abortion colleagues within their own party.

Manchin didn’t drop any names of nominees under discussion, but told West Virginia’s MetroNews that confirming a nominee who is “hard core” on abortion would prove to be a much “bigger lift” for Trump than confirming a “centrist.”

However Trump makes his decision, Walker said he thinks anyone Trump nominates would alter the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence and bring “clarity” on such issues as affirmative action, gun rights and church-state relations.

Walker said he thinks America will miss Kennedy’s presence on the high court.

“Having worked with him, his civility and the way he kind of treated everyone with dignity meant a lot to me,” Walker said of Kennedy. “At a time when cable news shock jocks are screaming over each other 24 hours a day, I think we’ll miss his civility.”

Law Firm Moves, News & Notes:

Hogan Lovells is creating a new transportation practice led by Washington-based partner Latane Montague. Montague said the practice will include approximately 25 lawyers recruited from both inside and outside the firm, alongside affiliated lawyers in other practices.

The new practice will cover regulatory affairs involving all modes of transportation, including autonomous vehicles and unmanned aircraft such as drones.

“I think it’s inevitable and imminent that we’re going to get new regulations to deal with new tech,” Montague said.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck is forming a national tax policy group based in Washington with three hires lured away from McGuireWoods: Russell Sullivan, Harold Hancock and Rosemary Becchi.

“There is an urgent need for clients to stay focused on tax policy in the coming years,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Brownstein’s bipartisan, bicameral team is perfectly positioned to help clients engage officials, identify opportunities and mitigate threats during this turbulent time.”

FisherBroyles, a law firm with more than 200 lawyers but no physical offices, announced this week that its partnership added three lawyers in Washington.

The trio includes Richard Kirby, most recently principal at Baker McKenzie, Beth-ann Roth, previously a partner at the Capital Fund Law Group, and Mark Thomas, who formerly worked as assistant general counsel for intellectual property and transactions for TeleTech Holdings Inc.

Ballard Spahr’s public finance department added Victoria Bowser to its Washington office from Squire Patton Boggs in Cleveland.

She is joining Ballard Spahr as of counsel, and her new firm’s website states that she is admitted to practice law in Ohio but not in Washington, D.C.

“We’re thrilled to add Victoria to our lineup in Washington, where she expands our capacity to serve government and private sector clients in major financing projects even further,” said Joseph Fanone, managing partner of Ballard Spahr’s Washington office, in a statement. “She is a terrific lawyer who has the practical experience and know-how our clients need to help them thrive in a challenging market.”

The 2018 edition of the NLJ 500, which details the results of The National Law Journal’s survey of the nation’s 500 largest law firms, was released online this week.

Details about which firms grew and shrank the most last year—and which legal markets benefited—can all be found here.