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Senate hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh shows Washington's sharp political split

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Read any other court-related news, including at the local or state level, and summarize what you learn.
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The deep partisan divide in Washington, D.C., was on view at a three-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Democrats questioned him intensely last week, exercising their constitutional role to review certain presidential appointees, including those picked for lifetime positions as justices on America's ultimate court. "The audience is the American people and our colleagues," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. "The American people need to know what's at stake and the impacts on their everyday lives."

The nine-member Supreme Court is atop the third branch of federal government, alongside the executive (president) and legislative (Congress) branches. Kavanaugh, a 53-year-old federal appeals court judge in the District of Columbia, asserted independence from the president who nominated him July 9 to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Asked if he'd owe loyalty to Donald Trump if he wins confirmation to the lifetime job, Kavanaugh said his loyalty would be to the Constitution. For effect, he held up a battered, pocket-sized copy. "No one is above the law in our constitutional system,” he said. “No matter who you are in our system. . . . It's all equal justice under law."

But Kavanaugh wouldn't say if a sitting president must respond to a subpoena – a question that could apply if special counsel Robert Mueller seeks answers from Trump while investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Kavanaugh's nomination is especially sensitive for two main reasons: (1) Senate Republicans in 2016 wouldn't consider a Supreme Court nomination by then-President Barack Obama because it was an election year and (2) Kennedy, the departing justice, was the court's “swing vote” for much of his 30 years there. Democrats and others fear Kavanaugh would produce a five-vote conservative majority for years or decades, possibly affecting decisions on affirmative action, religion and abortion. In any event, he's seen as highly likely to win at least the 51 Republican votes needed for confirmation, and may attract some Democratic backers too. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that he has no doubt Kavanaugh will become the next justice, probably by the end of September.

Nominee says: "I don't live in a bubble. I understand. I live in the real world. . . . I understand how passionately and how deeply people feel about this issue [abortion]." – Brett Kavanaugh

Republican says: "We have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the Supreme Court in American life now. Our political commentary talks about the Supreme Court [justices] like they are people wearing red and blue jerseys. That's a really dangerous thing. Both [political] parties are really, really lame in teaching basic civics to our kids right now. People on both sides of the aisle regularly talk about the Supreme Court like there are Republican justices and Democratic justices." – Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska

Democrat says: "What guides this nominee is partisanship." – Sen. Kamala Harris of California

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2019
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