US Supreme Court set to turn decisively conservative

Left: Women's reproductive rights activists who oppose the nomination of Mr Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court protesting during his confirmation hearing. Above: Former counsel to US president Richard Nixon John Dean test
Above: Women's reproductive rights activists who oppose the nomination of Mr Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court protesting during his confirmation hearing. PHOTO: EPA/EFE
Left: Women's reproductive rights activists who oppose the nomination of Mr Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court protesting during his confirmation hearing. Above: Former counsel to US president Richard Nixon John Dean test
Above: Former counsel to US president Richard Nixon John Dean testifying to express his opposition to the nomination of Mr Kavanaugh.PHOTO: EPA/EFE

Trump's pick, Brett Kavanaugh likely to be confirmed, despite protests by activists

After four days of an occasionally tense Senate committee hearing, regularly interrupted by noisy protests against the nomination by members of the audience, President Donald Trump's pick for a seat on the Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, appears set to be confirmed, probably by the end of this month.

His nomination will likely be brought before the full Senate, where he needs only 51 votes to secure the seat on the Supreme Court bench. Mr Trump's Republicans are in the majority in the 100-seat Senate with 51 members. There are two independents and the remaining 47 members are from the Democratic Party which does not have the numbers to block the nomination.

Judge Kavanaugh's appointment, together with that of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year, will likely be the most lasting legacy of President Trump. Supreme Court justices sit for life - unless they step down, are impeached, or die. Justice Gorsuch is only 51; Judge Kavanaugh is 53. Ideologically, the court's nine-member bench will be firmly in favour of conservatives if Justice Kavanaugh is appointed.

At the hearing, Democratic Party senators made repeated calls for postponement for time to study thousands of documents connected to Judge Kavanaugh, but they were turned down by the Republican committee chairman. The Democrats have largely questioned the judge's ideological position on issues such as presidential powers, abortion, same sex marriage and gun control.

Judge Kavanaugh skilfully avoided being trapped into value judgments on previous cases.

Much of the give and take was political theatre from the senators, some of whom - like Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California - have presidential ambitions.

The last day saw witnesses for and against the judge. Those who once worked with or had interacted in some professional manner with the judge lauded his basic decency, integrity and distinguished professional track record. Others, like Aalayah Eastmond, a teenage girl who survived the Feb 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, spoke on issues such as the need for gun control, and for women's access to contraception.

The judge's qualifications are not in doubt. He has heard more than 2,000 cases and written more than 300 opinions, the White House said. He has taught law for a decade at Yale and Harvard universities.

But progressive advocacy groups remain unimpressed and are wary of attempts by conservatives to unravel verdicts like that of the much celebrated Roe versus Wade ruling in 1973, which essentially legalised abortion.

Judge Kavanaugh would replace the 81-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy, who in June abruptly announced his retirement, and who was seen as a swing voter on the bench - sometimes progressive, and sometimes conservative.

Judge Kavanaugh served for over 12 years on the District of Columbia (DC) Circuit Court of Appeals. The Washington Post, examining nearly 200 of his votes and over 3,000 votes by his judicial colleagues, concluded that his judicial record was significantly more conservative than that of almost every other judge on that circuit.

Overturning Roe v Wade was a distinct possibility, Mr Erwin Chemerinsky, author and dean of Berkeley Law School, said on a podcast of the progressive American Civil Liberties Union.

"This is what conservatives have wanted for decades, now they will have the majority to do it," he said.

Judge Kavanaugh's appointment, together with that of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year, will likely be the most lasting legacy of President Trump. Supreme Court justices sit for life - unless they step down, are impeached, or die. Justice Gorsuch is only 51; Judge Kavanaugh is 53.

Alliance for Justice president Nan Aron said in a statement that Judge Kavanaugh had several times "put his character and integrity in doubt with misleading statements that were immediately contradicted by e-mail evidence from his days in the Bush administration".

"He failed to instil confidence that he believes the president is above the law; and failed to affirm that he believes Roe was rightly decided," she said.

Throughout the heated confirmation process, though, Judge Kavanaugh remained unfazed.

"My only loyalty is to the Constitution," he insisted as senators probed his position on how much power the president should have.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 09, 2018, with the headline 'US Supreme Court set to turn decisively conservative'. Print Edition | Subscribe