US Supreme Court takes hard right turn as Kavanaugh is sworn in
The US Supreme Court is supposed to be a sacred institution impervious to partisan politics but the newly confirmed justice Brett Kavanaugh gives the court its staunchest conservative majority in decades.
As he was sworn in Monday night at the White House, after an ugly, contentious Senate confirmation process in which he battled allegations of sexually assaulting women, Kavanaugh, 53, vowed to serve the country – not one political party or another.
“The Supreme Court is an institution of law. It is not a partisan or political institution,” said Kavanaugh, who was to take up his seat on the nine-member bench on Tuesday.
But Steven Schwinn, a professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, insisted the court has always been both a judicial institution and a political one.
“This didn’t start with Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination, and it won’t end here,” he told AFP.
Under the US constitution, it is the president who nominates people to the court but it is up to the Senate to confirm or reject them. Judges are named for life, so they can leave their mark for a long time after they first join the court.
Over time, it has wavered from right to left. In the early 19th century it defended slavery. In the 1960s, it was key in ending racial segregation.
But now “the court has not been this conservative since back to the 30’s” when it opposed the New Deal that former president Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed to lift the country out of the Great Depression, said Carl Tobias, a professor of law at the University of Richmond.
With the arrival of Kavanaugh the court comprises four liberals appointed by Democratic presidents and five conservatives picked by Republicans.
It is not the first time there is a Republicanpicked majority, but until now some of these held swing votes – they voted right or left, depending on the issue at stake.
Such was the case with justice Anthony Kennedy, whose retirement paved the way for Kavanaugh to replace him. Kennedy was right-leaning on voting rights issues but a progressive on same sex marriage and access to abortion.