An advocate for women or a threat? Two views of Brett Kavanaugh as US hearings kick off

Republican Senators like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are facing intense pressure to vote against confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court from abortion rights advocates.
Republicans will present Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the nation as an experienced, independent-minded jurist with a sparkling résumé, and as an advocate and mentor for women in the judiciary.
Republicans will present Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the nation as an experienced, independent-minded jurist with a sparkling résumé, and as an advocate and mentor for women in the judiciary. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Two wildly different portraits of Judge Brett Kavanaugh are set to emerge later on Tuesday (Sept 4) when he appears on Capitol Hill for the opening of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

One is a champion for women; the other a threat to women's rights.

Republicans will present Mr Kavanaugh to the nation as an experienced, independent-minded jurist with a sparkling résumé, and as an advocate and mentor for women in the judiciary.

Among the cases they will cite: his 2009 ruling in favour of Emily's List, the group that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.

Democrats will tell an entirely different story, painting Mr Kavanaugh as a far-right extremist who would roll back abortion rights, deny health coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, protect President Donald Trump from the threat of subpoena - and as someone who may have misled Congress when he testified during his appeals court confirmation hearing in 2006.

Those two competing narratives will define the contours of a deeply partisan and immensely consequential battle over Mr Trump's Supreme Court nominee. But while Democrats vowed early on to scuttle the Kavanaugh nomination - Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, promised to "oppose him with everything I've got" - they are unlikely to find success.

Democrats have been unable to muster much public outrage over his nomination or Republicans' refusal to grant them full access to documents from Mr Kavanaugh's time working for former President George W. Bush.

Mr Kavanaugh, 53, has spent the past 12 years on the federal appeals court here. If he is confirmed, he will shape the course of American jurisprudence for generations to come, filling the seat long occupied by retired Justice Anthony Kennedy with a committed conservative who would push a rightward-leaning court even further in that direction.

In a narrowly divided Senate - 50 Republicans, 47 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats - the Kavanaugh nomination could be defeated if all Democrats hang together and one Republican votes no.

But two Republicans most likely to cross the aisle, Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, both supporters of abortion rights, have made favourable comments about Mr Kavanaugh.