The Hindu Explains: From Facebook data breach to Sabarimala verdict implementation

Who is Brett Kavanaugh?

Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. President Donald Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court in less than two years in office, has exacerbated the deep political divisions in the country.

The 53-year-old federal appeals court judge from Bethesda, Maryland in the suburbs of the American capital, has become the metaphor for the battle between conservatives and liberals soon after Mr. Trump announced his name on July 9.

What are the charges?

Three allegations of sexual misbehaviour against him that surfaced subsequently and his combative response to them raised further questions about his eligibility to become a Supreme Court judge. But the Republican Senate leadership, goaded by Mr. Trump, dismissed all challenges and rail-roaded the confirmation process.

Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination turned confrontational as at least three women came forward with accusations that the judge, during his school and university days, had a dubious record with women. Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Judge Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge pushed her into a bedroom at a party, when they were all teenagers, and attempted to rape her. Judge Kavanaugh said he had “never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone.” A second woman, Deborah Ramirez, spoke of another indiscretion when they were students at Yale University. In the third episode, an attorney named Michael Avenatti publicised a sworn declaration from his client, Julie Swetnick, accusing Judge Kavanaugh of being present at a party when she was gang-raped. On September 27, Ms. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On October 1, Bloomberg reported that during his days at Yale, Judge Kavanaugh was involved in a drunken bar fight, which resulted in a call to the police. Subsequently, several former classmates of the judge came out to talk about his drinking habits and bouts of aggressive behaviour.

As the controversy raged, Mr. Trump mocked Ms. Ford at a public meeting even as he ordered a restricted investigation by the FBI. The details of the FBI findings were not released, but Republican Senators found them satisfactory and moved ahead with his confirmation.

What happened at the hearing?

Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate committee turned out to be a partisan show: he accused Democratic Senators of being part of a conspiracy to take “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” Later on, he wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal offering an explanation for his behaviour. “I was very emotional ...I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said.”

Why does it matter?

The current vacancy rose after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement at the age of 82. Justice Kennedy was considered a ‘swing vote’ in the nine-member court: his views had swung between the conservative and the liberal, depending on the questions under examination. The Supreme Court judges are appointed for life, and typically they get more than three decades to serve. Four justices are leaning more towards conservative positions, while an equal number lean more towards liberal ones.

Multiple questions about the very fundamentals of the American political system, such as voting rights, immigration, reproductive rights and campaign financing, will come up for the consideration of the court in the coming years, as the country is witnessing intense debates on these issues. The ninth judge will sway the direction of the U.S. for decades to come. Mr. Trump has said he will pick relatively young, conservative judges who will remain in the court for longer. As Judge Kavanaugh goes on to occupy a seat at the highest court, it is more a demonstration of the efficiency of strident polarisation than painstaking consensus-building.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 3:51:13 AM |

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