Ex­plo­sive supreme court bat­tle leaves the na­tion riven by bit­ter di­vi­sions

Brett Ka­vanaugh’s ex­pected con­fir­ma­tion to high­est court in the land will change Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal life for decades

The Observer - - News - David Smith

Don­ald Trump hailed “a big day for Amer­ica” yes­ter­day as pro­test­ers mounted a last-ditch ex­pres­sion of their fury at the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings of Brett Ka­vanaugh as a judge on the US supreme court.

Hold­ing plac­ards read­ing “hell hath no fury like mil­lions of women scorned” and “Kava-nope”, de­mon­stra­tors gath­ered out­side the high­est court in the land as se­na­tors pre­pared to hold a fi­nal vote on whether to con­firm Ka­vanaugh to the life­long po­si­tion – and tilt Amer­ica’s high­est court in a con­ser­va­tive di­rec­tion for decades.

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of a ma­jor vic­tory af­ter weeks of shock­ing al­le­ga­tions, rage-fu­elled hear­ings and rau­cous protests that have fur­ther di­vided Amer­ica, the pres­i­dent fo­cused his praise on those who had turned out, he said, to sup­port his nom­i­nee, “this very good man”. “It is a beau­ti­ful thing to see,” he tweeted. “Big day for Amer­ica!”

To many, Ka­vanaugh will be for­ever tainted by ac­cu­sa­tions by Chris­tine Blasey Ford, a re­search psy­chi­a­trist, that he sex­u­ally as­saulted her when they were teenagers at a high school party, and by doubts over his hon­esty dur­ing in­tensely emo­tional and par­ti­san tes­ti­mony at a Se­nate ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee hear­ing.

The bit­ter po­lit­i­cal fight has crys­tallised the po­lar­i­sa­tion of the Trump era. It has also be­come a cul­tural lit-

mus test of the strength of the yearold #MeToo move­ment, which in­spired women to speak out about in­ci­dents of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse, as it col­lided with the pa­tri­archy of a po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment dom­i­nated by age­ing white men. On Fri­day night all the way through to yes­ter­day morn­ing, Democrats staged a last stand on the Se­nate floor with a se­ries of speeches op­pos­ing the nom­i­nee. “To­day, in just a few hours, the United States Se­nate is go­ing to turn its back on right­eous­ness,” Se­na­tor Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York said. “It’s go­ing to turn its back on fair­ness and rea­son. And make no mis­take, it is go­ing to turn its back on women.” But it was al­most cer­tainly in vain af­ter Ka­vanaugh cleared a key pro­ce­dural vote on Fri­day. In that 51-49 re­sult, Se­na­tor Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the lone Repub­li­can to op­pose his nom­i­na­tion, while Se­na­tor Joe Manchin, a Demo­crat up for re­elec­tion in con­ser­va­tive West Vir­ginia, was the only Demo­crat to break from his party and back the judge.

Thou­sands of pro­test­ers, many of them vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault, had flooded the US Capi­tol in the days lead­ing up to the vote with im­pas­sioned pleas to re­ject Ka­vanaugh. In scenes of raw, vis­ceral anger, se­na­tors were chal­lenged in cor­ri­dors and lifts and were booed and jeered as they went to vote. There were hun­dreds of ar­rests. But two closely watched Repub­li­can mod­er­ates, Se­na­tors Su­san Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Ari­zona, ul­ti­mately gave Ka­vanaugh their stamp of ap­proval.

In a 45-minute speech, Collins said she found Ford’s tes­ti­mony last month de­scrib­ing Ka­vanaugh’s al­leged 1982 drunken as­sault as “sin­cere, painful and com­pelling” but added: “The facts pre­sented do not mean that Pro­fes­sor Ford was not sex­u­ally as­saulted that night, but they do lead me to con­clude that the al­le­ga­tions failed to meet the more-likely-than-not stan­dard.”

Collins faced a fierce back­lash from ac­tivists. And pro­test­ers chanted “Shame on you!” at Manchin when he talked to re­porters out­side his of­fice.

The ten­sions over Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion un­der­scored the deep mis­trust be­tween the two ma­jor par­ties in Wash­ing­ton, un­der­lin­ing con­cern about the na­tion’s bro­ken pol­i­tics. Se­na­tor John Kennedy de­scribed the con­fir­ma­tion process as “an in­ter­ga­lac­tic freak show”. Se­na­tor Chuck Grass­ley, chair­man of the ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee, said the Se­nate was ap­proach­ing “rock bot­tom”.

Repub­li­cans claimed a re­opened FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion over the past week had found no ev­i­dence to cor­rob­o­rate the ac­counts of Ford and Deb­o­rah Ramirez, a for­mer class­mate of Ka­vanaugh’s who al­leged he ex­posed him­self to her while the two at­tended Yale Univer­sity. Democrats said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was in­com­plete and had been cur­tailed by the White House.

Ka­vanaugh ve­he­mently de­nied Ford’s al­le­ga­tions when he tes­ti­fied last month on Capi­tol Hill, fu­ri­ously and tear­fully claim­ing there had been a smear cam­paign by Democrats. He sought to re­pair his rep­u­ta­tion in a col­umn pub­lished on Thurs­day in the Wall Street Jour­nal. “I might have been too emo­tional at times,” he wrote. “I said a few things I should not have.”

The con­tro­versy be­came one of most ex­plo­sive supreme court bat­tles since 1991, when con­ser­va­tive jus­tice Clarence Thomas was con­firmed af­ter be­ing ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment by his for­mer em­ployee, Anita Hill.

Trump, who has been ac­cused by more than a dozen women of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, at first showed signs of res­traint in his re­sponse to the al­le­ga­tions against his nom­i­nee. Af­ter Ford tes­ti­fied, he called her a “very fine woman” who of­fered a “com­pelling” ac­count. But at a rally in Mis­sis­sippi be­fore the vote, he mocked Ford’s tes­ti­mony be­fore a cheer­ing crowd.

Trump and his al­lies have turned the saga into a nar­ra­tive of male vic­tim­hood. The pres­i­dent de­scribed it as a “scary time for young men” who might be falsely ac­cused. Repub­li­can Se­na­tor Lind­sey Gra­ham told a hear­ing: “I’m a sin­gle white male from South Carolina, and I’m told I should just shut up, but I will not shut up.”

Repub­li­cans claimed that polls show signs of a “Brett bounce” in next month’s elec­tions for con­trol of Congress, fir­ing up party sup­port­ers who might oth­er­wise have not both­ered to vote. Kevin Mc­Carthy, the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity leader in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, told Fox News: “Prior to the Ka­vanaugh hear­ing, the in­ten­sity level was re­ally on the Demo­cratic side ... But in the last week there has been a fun­da­men­tal shift.”

Whit Ayres, a Repub­li­can poll­ster, said yes­ter­day: “It’s cer­tainly not go­ing to hurt Demo­cratic en­thu­si­asm – that’s a safe bet – but Ka­vanaugh did gin up Repub­li­can en­thu­si­asm as well be­cause a lot of Repub­li­cans felt a good man was be­ing rail­roaded un­fairly. You are go­ing to have en­er­gised vot­ers on both sides.”

Repub­li­cans have ap­peared will­ing to take short-term pain at the bal­lot box for the prize of shift­ing the supreme court for a gen­er­a­tion. Trump vowed as a can­di­date to nom­i­nate “pro-life” judges in a com­mit­ment that helped earn him the sup­port of re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives. His se­lec­tion of Ka­vanaugh to re­place the re­tired An­thony Kennedy was hailed as the crown­ing achieve­ment of a three-decade ef­fort to in­stall a con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity on the na­tion’s high­est bench.

A key fo­cal point of the early op­po­si­tion to his nom­i­na­tion fo­cused on his views on Roe v Wade, the land­mark 1973 supreme court de­ci­sion that af­firmed a woman’s con­sti­tu­tional right to an abor­tion.

Dis­putes over abor­tion, im­mi­gra­tion, gay rights, vot­ing rights and trans­gen­der troops could all head towards the court soon. Ka­vanaugh’s could be the de­ci­sive vote.

Le­gal an­a­lyst Jef­frey Toobin told CNN: “Abor­tion, af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, cam­paign fi­nance, gay rights – all those are go­ing to go in a very dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion be­cause An­thony Kennedy is gone and Brett Ka­vanaugh will be there.”


Pro­test­ers, above, op­posed to the ap­point­ment of Brett Ka­vanaugh, be­low, out­side the supreme court in Wash­ing­ton yes­ter­day.

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