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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Trump nominates Brett Kavanaugh to Supreme Court

Nomination could pave way for conservative control over the court for decades to come

Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in as a US Court of Appeals Judge for the District of Columbia by the US Supreme Court. President Donald Trump appointed him to the Supreme Court on July 9, 2018. Paul J Richards / AFP
Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in as a US Court of Appeals Judge for the District of Columbia by the US Supreme Court. President Donald Trump appointed him to the Supreme Court on July 9, 2018. Paul J Richards / AFP

United States President Donald Trump nominated the judge Brett Kavanaugh as a replacement for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on Monday.

If confirmed by the Senate, the Supreme Court swings to the right, granting conservatives another legal victory since Mr Trump became president.

Mr Trump announced his pick at the White House, where he lavished praise on the 53-year-old Mr Kavanaugh’s judicial record and his Ivy League education at Yale Law School.

The nomination, 12 days after the retirement of Mr Kennedy, gives Republicans their best chance in decades at securing a five-member majority (out of nine) in the highest court in the US and power to shape legal battles over guns, immigration, the environment and civil rights.

Mr Trump said he was fully aware of the gravity of his decision when he tweeted:

“I have long heard that the most important decision a U.S. President can make is the selection of a Supreme Court Justice - Will be announced tonight at 9:00 P.M”

Mr Kavanaugh, a Catholic, has strong credentials in Washington, where he was born and lived most of his life. He was a clerk for Justice Kennedy and has strong ties to the Bush family, both as former staffer to George W Bush and for his legal role in the Florida recount in 2000. His wife, Ashley, also worked as a personal secretary in the Bush White House.

The new nominee is seen, however, as an ardent foe of the Clintons. He co-authored the Starr Report calling for Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 before changing his mind and arguing in 2009 that sitting presidents should not be prosecuted while in office. The Trump team, facing its own Mueller investigation, has looked into that part of Mr Kavanaugh’s resume, according to CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

He tweeted: “Trump SCOTUS team has looked at Kavanaugh's past comments on indicting a sitting president, we've confirmed. In 2009, Kavanaugh wrote: "The indictment and trial of a sitting President, moreover, would cripple the federal government...”

Mr Kavanaugh has served on the DC Circuit Court since 2006, and has a strong conservative record on issues of protecting gun ownership, opposing a ban on semi-automatic rifles and showing scepticism over environmental regulations put in place by the Obama administration. His views and dissensions, however, on health care and abortion, are more in the centre and have got him in hot water with the hard right in the past.

Mr Kavanaugh was reportedly asked in 2003 about repealing Roe v Wade, the landmark law on abortions that Mr Trump would like to repeal, and he said he believes the law is “binding precedent”.

On immigration, Mr Kavanaugh’s views have earned him support from hawks in the Republican base such as Ann Coulter. Ms Coulter challenged Democrats on the issue ahead of the midterm elections in November. She tweeted: “PLEASE GOD, NOMINATE KAVANAUGH, @realDonaldTrump!”

Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination is already deepening the polarisation in Washington. Three Democratic senators and one Republican senator from swing states declined the White House invitation to attend the announcement.

His nomination and long paper trail could mean contentious hearings in the Senate similar to his 2003 nomination. Mr Bush nominated Mr Kavanaugh then to the DC circuit, but Democratic opposition delayed the confirmation for three years.

This time, the Republicans have a simple majority in the Senate (51 votes needed), but in an election year anything can happen.