Conservatives once more have rallied around Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as he faces a new round of disputed sexual misconduct allegations. But GOP lawmakers claim the calls from Democratic presidential candidates for his impeachment speak to a bigger issue.
As part of their defense of Kavanaugh, they say the renewed campaign against President Trump’s second Supreme Court pick is part of an escalating series of attacks on judicial independence — citing recent warnings to the high court and calls for ‘court-packing’ in addition to the pressure on Kavanaugh.
“This is not normal political behavior,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said earlier this week on the Senate floor.
The calls for Kavanaugh’s ouster followed a New York Times report on sexual misconduct allegations. But the report was called into question after the newspaper revised its original story to note the apparent victim in the newly alleged incident did not recall it.
“It’s an attack on judicial independence,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, in response to the Kavanaugh controversy. “They’re trying to intimidate, to bully and to threaten the justices because they’re hoping that they’ll help advance and protect this liberal agenda that they’re trying to get through the courts, when they know it’s being rejected by the American people.”
Kavanaugh’s most vocal critics, though, say the latest allegation — that he had his pants down at a dorm party “where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student” — is one of several that merit deeper investigation. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a presidential candidate, tweeted, “The reality of Kavanaugh’s confirmation process is that it lacked any integrity — there has never been a meaningful investigation into these allegations. We need the truth.”
While top Democratic leaders have pushed back on the impeachment calls and suggested it’s not part of their agenda right now, the campaign against Kavanaugh is not over. Liberal activist organizations Demand Justice, the Center for Popular Democracy and the Women’s March are planning protests on Oct. 6, the anniversary of Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“My Republican colleagues and I will fight to preserve a fair and independent judiciary,” McConnell tweeted.
McConnell is often vilified by Democrats for his own tactics regarding the judiciary — namely, his role in preventing then-President Barack Obama’s final nominee, Merrick Garland, from being considered in the Senate. Garland’s nomination never received a hearing, or a confirmation vote, so when the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia was still open after President Trump took office, Trump was able to name Neil Gorsuch instead.
McConnell claimed it was appropriate not to act on Garland’s nomination because he believed the outgoing president should not get to select a Supreme Court justice during his final year in office. Democrats were livid earlier this year when McConnell said if the same situation came up during the final year of Trump’s term, he would confirm the nominee. McConnell’s communication director later said that the difference is that presently the White House and Senate are controlled by the same party, which was not the case with Obama.
McConnell, however, is not the only one blasting Democrats for recent actions. On Tuesday, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., accused Democrats and the media of “leveraging unfounded criminal allegations against a duly confirmed Supreme Court Justice in an effort to undermine not only his work, but ultimately the entire court as an institution.”
Just last month, Democratic senators led by Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse filed a brief accusing the Supreme Court of being “not well,” and essentially threatened that if the justices don’t “heal” themselves, they could be “restructured,” which was believed to be a reference to court-packing. Several Democratic presidential candidates have supported this concept of expanding the roster of the Supreme Court. Increasing the number of justices would allow the president to shift the balance on the bench by loading it up with justices of his or her preference.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., took the Democrats to task for the restructuring threat, saying that expanding the Supreme Court to make it more liberal has long been Democrats’ “Dream.” He vowed to “do everything in my power to ensure that dream is NEVER fulfilled.”
All 53 Senate Republicans then signed a letter to the Supreme Court clerk warning the justices not to give in to Democratic pressure.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that Whitehouse’s brief and the current calls for impeaching Kavanaugh are part of an “assault on the judiciary,” inspired in part by an agenda including the Green New Deal, which could ultimately rely on court rulings.
Members of the court have largely remained silent on these issues, although liberal stalwart Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke out against expanding the court in a July conversation with NPR.
“Nine seems to be a good number,” she said.
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Kavanaugh impeachment calls mark latest strike on ‘judicial independence,’ Republicans say
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