Analysis: U.S. Supreme Court’s rightward lurch put Roe v. Wade on the brink

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – During a 2016 presidential debate, then-candidate Donald Trump made a statement that seemed brash at the time: If he were elected and got the chance to nominate justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion would be overturned.

By this time next year, with the court having tilted further to the right thanks to Trump’s three appointments to the nation’s highest court, his prediction could come true.

The court’s decision on Wednesday night to allow Texas’ six-week abortion ban to go into effect in apparent contravention of the 1973 Roe decision suggests the court is closer than ever to overturning a ruling U.S. conservatives have long reviled.

“We don’t know how quickly or openly the court will reverse Roe, but this decision suggests that it’s only a matter of time,” said Mary Ziegler, an expert on abortion history at Florida State University College of Law.

Two generations of American women have grown up with access to abortion, although its use has declined over the past decade.

But while Roe handed liberals a victory on a crucial issue of the times, it also helped to power the religious right into a galvanizing force as it worked to get the decision overturned.

Since Congress never acted to formalize abortion rights – which shows what a hot button issue it is politically – the same court that once legalized abortion has the power to allow states to ban it.

In the coming months, the court will weigh whether to throw Roe out altogether as the justices consider whether to uphold a 15-week abortion ban in the state of Mississippi.

Unlike the Texas dispute, in which the justices did not directly address whether Roe should be reversed, they will in the Mississippi case.

A ruling is due by the end of June 2022, just months before an election that will determine whether the Democrats retain their narrow majority in both houses of Congress.

The last time the Supreme Court was this close to overturning Roe, in 1992, opponents were bitterly disappointed when the court’s moderates banded together and upheld abortion rights. Although the Supreme Court had a conservative majority, it was not deemed conservative enough.

MCCONNELL’S ROLE

The reason why the outcome could be different now is in part thanks to the decades-long efforts of conservative legal activists to re-shape the court, which bore fruit during Trump’s presidency. Trump was aided by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as well as the death of liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which gave him a third vacancy to fill just before he lost the November 2020 election.

All three Trump nominees were pre-vetted by conservative lawyers associated with the Federalist Society legal group. All three — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — were in the majority as the court allowed the Texas abortion law to go into effect.

The court now has a rock-solid 6-3 conservative majority, which means that even if one peels away – as Chief Justice John Roberts did on Wednesday and in another abortion case in 2020 – the conservative bloc still retains the upper hand.

Conservative Republican McConnell played a key role in the Senate, which has the job of confirming nominees to the bench.

Democrats’ hopes were raised early in 2016, when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died, that what had been a 5-4 conservative majority on the high court could switch to a 5-4 liberal majority for the first time in decades. McConnell crushed those dreams, refusing to move forward with then-Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

As a result, when Trump came into office in early 2017 he was able to immediately nominate Gorsuch, who was duly confirmed by McConnell’s Republican-led Senate.

Trump and McConnell then pushed through the nomination of Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018 despite allegations of sexual misconduct against the nominee, which he denied. Kennedy was a conservative but had voted to uphold abortion rights in key cases, including in 1992.

Finally, in September 2020, Ginsburg died. In an unprecedented move, Trump and McConnell installed Barrett just days before Election Day on Nov. 7, leading to widespread accusations of hypocrisy but cementing the conservative majority.

Despite the favorable winds, some anti-abortion advocates are playing down the importance of the Supreme Court’s Texas ruling, and say the fate of Roe v Wade is still up in the air.

“I’ve long thought the court should overturn Roe because it is not based on what the Constitution actually says,” said John Bursch, a lawyer at conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, before adding: “This order doesn’t give a signal either way about what the majority will do in the Mississippi case.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Scott Malone and Sonya Hepinstall)

Trump says he will name Supreme Court pick by Saturday, urges quick vote

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday he will announce his U.S. Supreme Court pick by the end of the week, moving quickly to fill the seat of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg and cement a 6-3 conservative majority ahead of his Nov. 3 re-election bid.

The Republican president said he is looking “very seriously” at five candidates and would put forward his nominee on Friday or Saturday after funeral services for Ginsburg, who died of complications from pancreatic cancer on Friday at age 87.

Trump said the Republican-controlled Senate should hold a vote ahead of the election.

“The final vote should be taken frankly before the election. We have plenty of time for that,” Trump said on Fox News.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has prioritized confirming Trump’s judicial appointments, has said he would usher through a vote. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but two Republican senators – Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski – over the weekend said the chamber should not move forward with a Trump nominee before the election.

McConnell has time, as a new Congress will not be sworn in until Jan. 3. Democrats are hoping to win control of the Senate in the election.

Ginsburg’s death has upended the campaign season, giving Trump and his party an opportunity to strengthen its grip on a court whose decisions influence many spheres of American life including abortion, healthcare, gun rights, voting access, presidential powers and the death penalty.

Trump already has named two conservative justices to the high court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Trump has mentioned possible candidates in Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump named both of them to their current jobs. Trump on Fox also was asked about Judge Allison Rushing, who Trump appointed to the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year.

“I’m looking at five, probably four, but I’m looking at five very seriously. I’m going to make a decision on either Friday or Saturday,” Trump said.

‘A TERRIFIC WOMAN’

Asked about Lagoa, a conservative Cuban-American jurist from Florida, Trump said, “She’s Hispanic. She’s a terrific woman from everything I know. I don’t know her. Florida. We love Florida.” Florida is an election battleground state pivotal to Trump’s chances against Biden.

The court vacancy also has given Trump and his fellow Republicans a chance to steer the national discussion away from the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed almost 200,000 Americans and thrown millions of people out of work.

Democrats accused McConnell of hypocrisy for being eager to usher a Trump nominee to a confirmation vote. In 2016, he refused to even consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the court left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, saying it would be inappropriate to do so during an election year.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington and Andrew Chung in New York; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Jan Wolfe, Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear gun rights cases

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a series of new cases seeking to expand gun rights.

The court rejected a total of 10 different cases that had piled up at the court in recent months. Two justices, conservatives Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, said they would have heard one of the cases, a dispute from New Jersey over that state’s concealed carry gun permits.

In the New Jersey case, the justices left in place a lower court ruling that threw out a lawsuit challenging the state’s law mandating that people who want to carry handguns in public must show they have a special reason before they can get a permit.

Other cases the court declined to take up included challenges to assault weapon bans in Massachusetts and Cook County, Illinois, a jurisdiction that includes Chicago. The court also turned down cases similar to the New Jersey dispute from Massachusetts and Maryland.

The high court’s action comes on the heels of its April 27 decision to dismiss a National Rifle Association-backed challenge to now-repealed New York City restrictions on handgun owners transporting their firearms outside the home.

The move sidestepped a major ruling over the scope of the right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The New York case was the first gun rights dispute the court had heard in almost a decade, with gun control activists fearful the court will further expand the right to bear arms.

The decision by the justices not to take up any of the 10 other cases shows that the court, which has a 5-4 conservative majority, remains hesitant about wading into gun rights issues.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

The Procedural Vote – Special Edition, Washington, D.C.

by Billye Brim | Oct 6, 2018

The Procedural Vote

Four of us left our hotel at 8 AM Friday morning and arrived early at the private entry door where we waited until 9 to get in.

Our special passes were issued by high-ranking Senators. Two of them, whose names are most-associated with these proceedings entered the room where 150 or so of us were gathered. They asked that we not record or take pictures. So—I will not reveal their names. But one of them said to us, “I believe in the power of prayer. Don’t pay so much attention to what is happening on the floor. But keep focused on prayer as you ask that the Lord’s will be done.”

Inside the Senate Gallery, there was decorum. No shouting. On both sides of the Gallery, people behaved with respect. The prayer on the Republican side where we sat was amazing. The people were amazing. We were instructed that we could not react to anything said on the floor. Nor could we react to the outcome of the vote. Everyone on both sides respected the place. The atmosphere was one of peace. Even before any speeches or any votes. I believe the powers of the air were bound and muted by the strong army of believers here in D.C. and there where you are. The Prayer Force all across America and even the world was in action.

The Mobs
and
The Prayer Force

I wasn’t going to give any “ink” to the mobs but I want you to see where the real power was—in the praying people. And this morning (Saturday, October 6,) I was reading in Acts and saw that the enemy’s M.O. has been operating in MOBS for centuries.

The rabble-rousers are not affecting things in the magnitude the media is portraying. Wherever they are, cameras are following them. The press is paying little or no attention to the many, many praying people who are here.

Max is here. He did not have a Gallery pass. He was praying in Grassley’s office on Friday with about 150 believers he said were from across America. He prayed closely with one family which consisted of a mother and her 15-year old son and his grandfather. The husband and father is overseas in the military serving our country. The family has a strong military heritage. They gave Max the shirt you see him wearing in the attached photograph.

When this family group decided to walk the halls praying, and wearing these t-shirts, the 15-year old said to Max, “Walk with me, Uncle.” The grandfather, the son, and Max followed the women in their little group. A scruffy looking man (Max’s description) walked up to the boy and hit him full force in the stomach. The young man fell to the ground in pain. The Capitol Police came up to arrest the man (and incidentally they want to be arrested). However, the mother said that she didn’t want to press charges and that they would pray for the man.

Greater Is He That Is In Us
Than he that is in the world.

On Thursday we met other praying people in Senator Grassley’s office when the mob decided to take over the halls. Hannah caught a video of the leader outside Grassley’s office door yelling that we didn’t have any black people inside (Facebook video – click here). She did not know that at that very moment, the Lord had anointed a young black woman inside to lead us in prayer. I was impressed by the Power of the Holy Spirit upon her as she led in a loud voice. Her words were those of Authority, Power, and Dominion. I was thrilled at who the Lord used so mightily to put to naught the accusatory words being shouted outside the door. The adversary knew what was happening inside and that he was defeated. (Instagram video – click here)

We are awaiting now (Saturday morning) word for when the vote will take place.

Again, the Lord is providing great Gallery seats for us. But as I said, wherever you are, we all meet at the Right Hand of the Father from where we operate.

Shalom and Blessings
Love in Him
Billye Brim

After fight that split U.S., Kavanaugh wins place on Supreme Court

Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Chief Justice John Roberts as Kavanaugh's wife Ashley holds the family bible and his daughters Liza and Margaret look on in a handout photo provided by the U.S. Supreme Court taken at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., October 6, 2018. Fred Schilling/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/Handout via Reuters

By Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate on Saturday confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, dismissing anger over accusations of sexual misconduct against him and delivering a major victory to President Donald Trump who has now locked in a conservative majority on the court.

By a vote of 50-48, the deeply-divided Senate gave the lifetime job to Kavanaugh, 53, after weeks of fierce debate over sexual violence, alcohol abuse and his angry response to the allegations that convulsed the nation just weeks before congressional elections on Nov. 6.

Kavanaugh will help take the highest U.S. court to the right, perhaps for many years, and his confirmation is a bitter blow to Democrats already chafing at Republican control of the White House and both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

Conservatives will now have a 5-4 majority in any future legal battles on contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, transgender rights, industry regulation, and presidential powers.

Adding to a dramatic day on Capitol Hill, women protesters in the Senate gallery shouted “Shame on you!” and briefly interrupted the vote.

Another group of protesters stormed toward the doors of the nearby Supreme Court building with raised fists. Police stood guard at the doors.

Kavanaugh was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts shortly after the vote.

Kavanaugh’s nomination blew up into a personal and political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her in the upstairs bedroom of a home in a wealthy suburb of Washington in 1982.

Two other women accused him in the media of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh fought back against the accusations, denying them in angry and tearful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that was viewed live on television by around 20 million people.

Trump, who called Kavanaugh to congratulate him on Saturday, said he was “100 percent” certain that Ford named the wrong person in accusing the judge.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One while flying to a campaign rally in Kansas, Trump said of Kavanaugh: “We’re very honored that he was able to withstand this horrible, horrible attack by the Democrats.”

Michael Bromwich, a lawyer for Ford, said in a tweet that Kavanaugh’s confirmation capped, “A week that will live in infamy for the U.S. Senate, permanently diminishing its stature.”

A few Republican senators who had wavered over whether to vote for Kavanaugh finally backed him this week, saying they did so in part because a brief FBI investigation found no corroborating evidence of Ford’s accusations.

Democrats said the FBI probe was nowhere near wide enough.

Trump watched the vote on a large-screen television tuned to Fox News in a wood-paneled cabin on the plane. He flashed two thumbs up when the final vote was declared and aides on board applauded.

The Senate confirmation allows him to hit the campaign trail ahead of the congressional elections saying that he has kept his 2016 promise to mold a more conservative American judiciary.

At a political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday, Trump mocked Ford’s account of what she says was a drunken attack on her by Kavanaugh when they were teenagers.

For weeks, senators from both parties decried the harsh and often emotional rhetoric in the clash over Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge with a history of advancing Republican causes.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, dismissed the prospect of lingering bitterness among senators. “These things always blow over,” he told a news conference.

WOMEN PROTESTS

Hundreds of protesters against Kavanaugh gathered on the grounds of the Capitol and at the Supreme Court. A total of 164 people were arrested in the protests, U.S. Capitol Police said.

Residents of a townhouse near the Washington home of Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican whose backing helped get Kavanaugh over the line on Saturday, flew the flag of the lawmaker’s home state Maine upside down in protest.

Accusations against Kavanaugh energized the #MeToo social media movement that emerged after high-profile accusations of sexual assault and harassment by men in politics, the media and the entertainment industry.

Democrats said Kavanaugh’s partisan defense of himself, in which he said he was victim of a “political hit,” was enough itself to disqualify him from the court.

The dispute over Kavanaugh has added fuel to campaigning for the elections in November when Democrats will try to take control of Congress from the Republicans.

Several polls show that Republican enthusiasm about voting, which had lagged behind, jumped after the Kavanaugh hearing last week.

McConnell told Reuters that the political brawl over Kavanaugh will help Republicans at the ballot box.

“Nothing unifies Republicans like a court fight,” McConnell said in an interview ahead of the vote. “It’s been a seminal event leading into the fall election.”

But Democrats hope women angered at the Kavanaugh accusations will turn out in large numbers to reject Republicans.

During Saturday’s vote, senators were showered with cries of “We will not forget,” and “Survivors vote” from protesters in the Senate gallery.

Democrats must gain at least two Senate seats and 23 House seats at the elections to claim majorities in each chamber, enabling them to block Trump’s agenda and investigate his administration. The Democrats are seen as having more chance of winning control of the House of Representatives than the Senate.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter: “Confirming Brett Kavanaugh in the face of credible allegations of sexual assault that were not thoroughly investigated, and his belligerent, partisan performance…undermines the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.”

Kavanaugh succeeds retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was often the decisive swing vote on social issues.

The showdown over Kavanaugh had echoes of current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ contentious confirmation hearings in 1991 involving sexual harassment allegations lodged against him by a law professor named Anita Hill.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker, Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Roberta Rampton on Air Force One; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Kavanaugh heads toward final Senate vote for Supreme Court post

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s nominee Brett Kavanaugh took a step on Friday toward joining the Supreme Court when the U.S. Senate approved him in a preliminary vote, despite accusations of sexual misconduct against the judge.

After a bitter partisan fight that gripped the country, lawmakers backed Kavanaugh by 51 to 49 in a procedural vote that moved the Republican-controlled Senate toward a definitive decision on whether to confirm him.

The full confirmation vote could take place as early as Saturday.

Given the result of Friday’s vote, federal appeals court judge Kavanaugh looked on track to get the lifetime job on the Supreme Court. But a change of heart by some lawmakers in the final vote would mean his confirmation could still be derailed.

Confirmation would hand Trump a clear victory and tip the balance on the court to a 5-4 majority in favor of conservatives in possible legal battles ahead over contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, and Trump’s attempt to ban transgender people from the U.S. military.

The Kavanaugh fight has riveted Americans just weeks before Nov. 6 elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from the Republicans.

What was already a sharply partisan battle became an intense political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were in high school in Maryland in 1982. Two other women also made accusations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh in the 1980s.

He denied the allegations.

Kavanaugh’s fate might still be in the hands of a few key

senators in a chamber where Republicans hold only a razor-thin majority.

One of them, Republican Susan Collins, voted in favor of advancing the process on Friday, but said she would announce later in the day whether she would support Kavanaugh in the final vote still ahead.

Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Jeff Flake voted to advance Kavanaugh, but neither has stated his position on a final vote.

Further complicating matters for the Republican leadership, Senator Steve Daines was set to be at his daughter’s wedding on Saturday and has said he will not miss the ceremony. That may require a delay in the final vote.

FLASHPOINT

Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee was broadcast live on television last Thursday and captured the attention of millions watching.

In an angry rebuttal later that day, Kavanaugh said the accusations were part of a “political hit” by Democrats.

His nomination became a flashpoint in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault. Trump mocked Ford on Tuesday during a political rally in Mississippi, further angering Democrats and women campaigning for an end to sexual violence.

Trump, himself accused by numerous women during the 2016 presidential election of sexual misconduct, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that an FBI report showed that the allegations against Kavanaugh were “totally uncorroborated.”

The FBI sent Congress documents detailing additional interviews about Kavanaugh that the agency conducted at the request of some Republican and Democratic senators.

While the documents have not been made public, Republicans said they did not back up sexual assault allegations by Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California.

Similarly, Republicans said the FBI found nobody to support assault claims by Deborah Ramirez, who was a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale University in the 1980s.

Democrats called the FBI report a whitewash and said the White House placed constraints on the FBI, which did not speak to many potential witnesses.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by David Morgan, Ginger Gibson, David Alexander, Lisa Lambert and Kevin Drawbaugh; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Senate panel backs Trump’s court pick, but Flake seeks FBI probe

Senate Judiciary Committee members (L-R) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) talk at the conclusion of the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Win McNamee/Pool via REUTERS

By Amanda Becker, David Morgan and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Republican-led committee approved President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court but moderate Republican Senator Jeff Flake called for an FBI investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against the judge before a final Senate vote.

Flake’s intervention means a final Senate vote on the nomination could be delayed for up to a week so that the possible FBI investigation can be completed, if Republican Senate leaders agree to his demand.

“I will vote to advance the nominee to the floor with that understanding,” Flake said.

Just before the scheduled vote in the Judiciary Committee, Flake left the committee room to talk to some Democrats, adding new drama to the proceedings. During the delay, senators and aides could be seen in the committee room having hushed conversations, with some going back and forth to an anteroom of the committee chamber.

Trump’s fellow Republicans secured the votes to approve Kavanaugh in the sharply divided committee after Flake announced his support for the nominee earlier in the day. The full Senate must confirm Supreme Court appointments.

The committee, with tempers flaring on both sides, met the morning after a jarring and emotional hearing into sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh that gripped the country, with a university professor named Christine Blasey Ford accusing him of sexual misconduct. He denied the accusation.

One Republican, Senator John Kennedy, called Kavanaugh’s confirmation process “an intergalactic freak show.”

As the committee, with 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, set its vote, some Democrats left the room in protest. “What a railroad job,” Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono said.

It remained unclear if Republicans have the votes to confirm Kavanaugh on the Senate floor. Republicans hold a slim Senate 51-49 majority, making the votes of two other so-far undecided Republican moderates crucial: Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins.

Republican committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said he found Thursday’s testimony from both Ford and Kavanaugh “credible,” but added, “There’s simply no reason to deny Judge Kavanaugh a seat on the Supreme Court on the basis of evidence presented to us.”

The timing of the panel’s session gave committee members little time to review Thursday’s extraordinary testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students in 1982. Kavanaugh forcefully denied the accusations and accused Democrats of a “calculated and orchestrated political hit.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s senior Democrat, called Kavanaugh’s remarks unseemly for a judicial nominee.

“This was someone who was aggressive and belligerent. I have never seen someone who wants to be elevated to the highest court in the country behave in that manner. In stark contrast, the person who testified yesterday and demonstrated a balanced temperament was Dr. Ford,” Feinstein said.

Another Democrat, Amy Klobuchar, noted that Grassley had thanked Ford for her bravery but nevertheless failed to back any further investigation.

“Where is the bravery in this room?” Klobuchar asked.

‘THEY DON’T MATTER’

Flake, who had previously raised concerns about the allegations against Kavanaugh, said Ford gave “compelling testimony” but Kavanaugh provided “a persuasive response.”

Soon after Flake made his announcement, he was confronted in an elevator while on his way to the committee meeting by two protesters who said they were sexual assault survivors.

“That’s what you’re telling all women in America – that they don’t matter, they should just keep it to themselves,” one of the protesters shouted at Flake in an exchange aired by CNN.

“I need to go to my hearing. I’ve issued my statement,” Flake said.

The controversy has unfolded just weeks ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are trying to seize control of Congress from the Republicans.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh would consolidate conservative control of the nation’s highest court and advance Trump’s broad effort to shift the American judiciary to the right.

Democrats said Kavanaugh’s confirmation could taint the Supreme Court, which prides itself on staying above the political fray.

“Voting to advance and ultimately confirm Judge Kavanaugh while he is under this dark cloud of suspicion will forever change the Senate and our nation’s high court. It will politicize the U.S. Supreme Court,” Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said.

Democrats have urged a delay in the confirmation process to allow for an FBI investigation. The American Bar Association, which earlier endorsed Kavanaugh, and the dean of Yale Law School, which Kavanaugh attended, also called for an FBI probe, the first indication of the legal profession turning on the nominee.

The committee Republicans also voted down a Democratic motion seeking to subpoena Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh friend who Ford said witnessed the assault. Judge told the committee in a written statement he does not recall any such incident.

Senator Joe Donnelly, a moderate Democrat who last year voted for Trump’s previous Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, announced he would vote against Kavanaugh. Two other key moderate Democrats who voted for Gorsuch, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin, have not announced how they will vote.

Kavanaugh could be the deciding vote on contentious legal issues if he is confirmed to the nine-member court, with disputes involving abortion, immigration, gay rights, voting rights and transgender troops possibly heading to the court soon. The court begins its next term on Monday, down one justice after the retirement of conservative Anthony Kennedy effective in July. Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace Kennedy.

Ford testified on Thursday she was “100 percent certain” Kavanaugh assaulted her. Kavanaugh called himself the victim of “grotesque and obvious character assassination.”

Questions were raised about Kavanaugh’s temperament at the hearing as well as his fiery political accusations and how that could impact his role on the court.

“I believe once he gets to the Supreme Court, he will call the balls and strikes fairly,” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told “CBS This Morning,” using a baseball analogy.

 

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Amanda Becker, Andrew Chung, Susan Heavey and Bernie Woodall; Editing by Will Dunham)

Supreme Court nominee steers clear of Trump criticism

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies while White House Counsel Don McGahn (right) listens during the third day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alex Wroblewski

By Lawrence Hurley and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh stressed on Thursday that he believes the judiciary has broad authority to check the power of the White House, but refused to criticize the man who selected him, President Donald Trump.

In a second day of testimony, Kavanaugh declined to comment on Trump’s criticism of the judiciary or offer praise of the president’s character.

Democrats at Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearing also pressed the conservative federal appeals court judge over newly released emails highlighting his views on abortion and racial issues after a partisan fight over the public release of the documents.

The documents released on Thursday dated from Kavanaugh’s service in the White House under Republican President George W. Bush more than a decade ago. Democrats had objected to an earlier decision by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican leadership not to make the emails public.

The third day of the confirmation hearing again was repeatedly interrupted by protesters hostile to Kavanaugh. The nominee, enduring back-to-back days of lengthy questioning, remained in good humor, making no gaffes that were likely to derail his confirmation in a Senate narrowly controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, despite the efforts of Democrats opposed to him.

Some liberals have expressed concern Kavanaugh could be a rubber stamp for Trump and protect him from lawsuits and investigations.

Asked by Democratic Senator Cory Booker whether he was picked because of an expectation of loyalty to Trump, Kavanaugh responded: “My only loyalty is to the Constitution. I’m an independent judge.”

Kavanaugh refused to say whether he had “the greatest respect” for Trump, a phrase Booker said he had used when describing Bush.

JUDICIAL AUTHORITY

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said Kavanaugh’s nomination comes at a time when Trump poses a threat to America’s rule of law and is facing an ongoing special counsel investigation. Kavanaugh said his 12 years as a judge demonstrated he was unafraid “to invalidate executive power when it violates the law.”

Kavanaugh had declined on Wednesday to answer whether a president would have to respond to a court’s subpoena, saying he could be asked to rule on the matter. But under questioning by Durbin on the scope of presidential power, Kavanaugh underscored judicial authority.

“When a court order requires a president to do something or prohibits a president from doing something under the Constitution or laws of the United States, under our constitutional system, that is the final word,” Kavanaugh said.

Kavanaugh, probed again on his views on a 1974 Supreme Court ruling against President Richard Nixon requiring recordings made in the Oval Office to be given to prosecutors, said the case was correctly decided. He called it “a moment of judicial independence where I think the court came together” in a unanimous decision.

Kavanaugh declined to answer questions on how that case could be applied relating to the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

He also repeated his refusal to comment on whether he would recuse himself if a case involving the Mueller investigation or other issues relating to Trump’s conduct came before him.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh is seen as likely to tilt the top U.S. court even further to the right. That prospect worries Democrats and heartens Republicans on volatile issues including abortion, gun rights, gay rights, the death penalty, religious liberty and business regulation.

The committee considering Kavanaugh’s nomination will hear from outside witnesses on Friday before the hearing wraps up. Republicans hope the full Senate can vote on the nomination close to the time the Supreme Court’s new term starts on Oct 1.

‘SETTLED LAW’

In a 2003 email released on Thursday, Kavanaugh suggested striking a line from a draft opinion piece that had stated: “It is widely accepted by legal scholars across the board that Roe v. Wade and its progeny are the settled law of the land,” saying that the Supreme Court could overturn it.

Asked about that document, Kavanaugh said he suggested the change because he thought the draft language was overstating the thinking of legal scholars at the time. He again declined to say whether the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade, was correctly decided, although he indicated – as he did on Wednesday – that it was a decision that merited respect as “an important precedent of the Supreme Court.”

The hearing opened with Democrats complaining that various documents had not already been made public by the committee’s Republican leaders. They were released by the committee minutes later.

Booker called the process used by the committee to decide which documents to make public “a bit of sham,” a characterization rejected by the panel’s Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley. Booker said he was willing to face possible punishment under Senate rules by releasing the documents himself, although Republicans said they had already agreed to release them.

Trump picked Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement in June.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Amanda Becker; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

Trump’s Supreme Court nominee emphasizes judicial independence

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 5, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, sought to stake out his independence on Wednesday as he faced his first questions during the second day of his contentious Senate confirmation hearing.

“I think the first quality of a good judge in our constitutional system is independence,” the conservative federal appeals court judge said in response to a question by the Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley.

“No one is above the law in our constitutional system,” Kavanaugh added.

As they did the day before, protesters repeatedly interrupted the session, opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination.

The confirmation hearing opened on Tuesday with a chaotic session in which Democrats complained that Republicans withheld documents concerning Kavanaugh’s work in former President George W. Bush’s White House more than a decade ago that they said they needed to review to properly vet the nominee. Capitol Police on Tuesday removed 61 protesters opposed to Kavanaugh from the room and charged them with disorderly conduct.

Trump has often criticized the federal judiciary. Kavanaugh underscored the importance of judicial independence, saying, “That takes some backbone. That takes some judicial fortitude.”

In citing examples of judicial independence, Kavanaugh mentioned a 1954 ruling ending racial segregation in public schools and a 1974 ruling ordering President Richard Nixon to hand over subpoenaed materials during the Watergate scandal.

He also said he would respect past Supreme Court rulings.

Democratic senators plan to press Kavanaugh on abortion, gun rights, among other issues.

Kavanaugh, who made an opening statement to the committee on Tuesday, entered the hearing room and took his seat alone at the witness table, pouring some bottled water into a glass moments before the hearing began.

Shortly after Grassley opened the session, protesters began interrupting the proceedings and were hauled out of the room by security personnel.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh is expected to move the court, which already had a conservative majority, further to the right. Senate Democrats have vowed a fierce fight. But with Trump’s fellow Republicans holding a slim majority in the Senate, and with no sign of any of them voting against the nomination, it remains likely Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the lifetime job on top U.S. judicial body.

Trump picked Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27. At age 53, Kavanaugh could serve on the court for decades.

Republicans said Democrats have more than enough documents to assess Kavanaugh’s record, including his 12 years of judicial opinions as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The hearing has given Democrats a platform to make their case against Kavanaugh ahead of November’s congressional elections in which they are seeking to regain control of Congress from the Republicans.

Liberals are concerned Kavanaugh could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Kavanaugh also is likely to be questioned about his views on investigating sitting presidents and the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s 2016 campaign. Trump has denied any such collusion and has called Mueller’s investigation “witch hunt.”

In 2009, Kavanaugh wrote a law review article saying presidents should be free from the distractions of civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions and investigations while in office.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Ginger Gibson and Amanda Becker; Editing by Will Dunham)

Democrats vow ‘sparks will fly’ over Trump’s Supreme Court pick

FILE PHOTO: Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh pictured at his office in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Democrats plan to hammer President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on his views on abortion and presidential power in hearings starting on Tuesday but the conservative judge looks likely to be confirmed.

“A good judge must be an umpire – a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” Kavanaugh will say at the opening of the hearing, according to a selection of his remarks released in advance. “I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.”

Trump’s fellow Republicans hold narrow majority control of the Senate so they can approve Kavanaugh if they stay united. So far, there were no signs of defections, with the Senate likely to vote by the end of the month.

The hearing, expected to last four days, gives Democrats a chance to make their case against Kavanaugh ahead of November’s congressional elections.

“There will be sparks at this hearing. Sparks will fly, and there will be a lot of heat,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the judiciary committee that will convene the hearings, said on Friday.

Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27 at age 81. He is Trump’s second nominee to a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest judicial body. Trump last year appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, part of his push to make the courts more conservative.

Liberals are concerned Kavanaugh could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Without Kennedy, the court is now split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals. Kennedy was a solid conservative but sided with the court’s liberals on some issues, including abortion and gay rights.

Beyond social issues, Kavanaugh is also likely to face questions about his views on investigating sitting presidents and the ongoing probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Kavanaugh spent four years working for Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who investigated former Democratic President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Kavanaugh also spent more than five years working for Republican President George W. Bush.

In 2009, many years after the Starr inquiry, Kavanaugh wrote a law review article saying presidents should be free from the distractions of civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions and investigations while in office.

As a judge, he has amassed a solidly conservative record since 2006 on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

With Senator John McCain’s death, the Republican Senate majority shrank to 50-49, but McCain’s replacement is likely be seated before a final vote on Kavanaugh, restoring the majority to 51-49 and providing the votes needed for confirmation.

Liberal activists have pinned their slim hopes to block Kavanaugh on two Republican senators who support abortion rights: Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. So far, neither has indicated she is likely to oppose Kavanaugh.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Trott)