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Looking Ahead: The Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing Begins

by Lindsay France, published

Washington, D.C.- On Tuesday the Senate confirmation hearing begins for Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s pick for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Kavanaugh would tip the balance of the bench, with conservative justices holding the majority.   

Trump's nominee will be introduced at his hearing by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Kavanaugh's extensive political and judicial record which has already drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, will be on display before the world to see.

Before serving as a circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Kavanaugh had a prominent role in drafting the Starr Report which proposed an impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

He hit the road for President George W. Bush's 2000 campaign and went on to become Staff Secretary at the White House.  Bush nominated him to the Court of Appeals three years later.

What We Can Expect

The Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing is expected to take several days. After the hearing, the committee votes, and it typically recommends the nominee to the full Senate for a vote, the committee can give a favorable or unfavorable recommendation.

In 1991, Justice Clarence Thomas was sent to the Senate for a vote without a recommendation – favorable or not – from the Judiciary Committee. Robert Bork was sent to the full floor with an unfavorable recommendation in 1987.

If there is a tie among the 51 Republican senators and 49 Democrats on the Senate floor, Vice President Mike Pence would break it, and Kavanaugh would no doubt head to the Supreme Court.

The ‘Nuclear Option’ and What It Actually Means

We can thank former Republican Mississippi Senator Trent Lott for coining the Senate’s "Nuclear Option" term back in the early 2000’s which changed confirmation rules.

It dropped the passing vote threshold from 60 to 51 votes which more easily prevents the minority party from blocking, or “filibustering,” the nominee.

It wasn’t actually used until 2013 when Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid activated it for cabinet secretaries and federal judgeships. At the time, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told him, "You'll regret this, and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think."

McConnell was right, his prophecy came true when the GOP took the White House and Congress. 

The ‘Nuclear Option’ was in full effect for conservative Supreme Court Nominee Neal Gorsuch who skated through with a 54-45 vote in 2017.

How The Re-election Comes Into Play

Democratic Senators Joe Donnelly of Indiana, along with Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and are all trying to keep their seats in November as they face reelection.

All of the states they represent voted heavily for Donald Trump, so that voting base is important for those candidates. Voting for Kavanaugh could secure victories in each of those races for Democrats.

It's an issue that has drawn substantial interest and will no doubt be discussed when the hearing kicks off Tuesday.

The Roe v. Wade Component

Moderates who approved of Neil Gorsuch but publicly expressed reservations about Kavanaugh maintain a position of great power.

GOP moderate Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in 2017. However, both have repeated, “No activist judge set on reversing Roe v. Wade will get my support.”

Democrats have argued that Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court would threaten abortion rights, but Collins said Kavanaugh told her that he believes the 1973 decision that established abortion rights is settled law, suggesting he may not vote to overturn it if confirmed.

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