The denouement of the Kavanaugh affair was fitting. In a bad-tempered and scratchy final display of partisanship, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved, by the narrowest of margins, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. The proceedings were barely in order, and the newly instated “Flake amendment” means that the full Senate vote will be delayed by a week in the interest of an FBI enquiry that will help dispel doubts about Mr Kavanaugh.

The committee’s nomination now goes to a full vote of the US Senate, where the Republicans hold a majority. There are two female Republican senators with a history of not toeing the party line – Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – who could yet thwart Donald Trump’s nominee and the balance of opinion could not be closer. Indeed, in the event of a 50-50 vote, it would require the casting vote of Vice President Mike Pence to settle matters. Things will not be delayed until after the midterm elections in November, as perhaps some Democrats may have hoped – though that would not be a worthy motive for prolonging the nomination process. The question marks that still stand above the head of Mr Kavanaugh, and the need to resolve them, are honourable reasons for the Senate to discharge its duty. The FBI investigation, albeit only one week long, will help fulfil that responsibility.

This was a bad decision. Ironically, the committee, or rather its Republican majority, failed to abide by basic principles of fairness and justice in its consideration of the brave witness testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. Chairman Chuck Grassley, an 85-year-old Republican with a half-century of service in Congress, was high-handed, ignoring fellow committee members and making arbitrary judgments.

The committee should have heard first-hand evidence from other concerned witnesses. Mark Judge, who Dr Ford says witnessed the incident, was not asked to testify in person; he submitted a signed letter via his lawyers, and claims not to have any memory of the incidents. That may well be true, but many of Mr Grassley’s colleagues wished to ask him some questions directly. There will now be an FBI investigation, but hardly a comprehensive one given the time allowed.

The truth, then, about Mr Kavanaugh’s past behaviour and tendencies is not yet known. 

There are, as committee members noted, precedents for a Supreme Court nominee being subjected to the most stringent scrutiny, and closer examination than Mr Kavanaugh has yet experienced in fact. No wonder Democrat senators walked out of the proceedings in protest.

In the end, though, this highly partisan and divisive process seems set to end with a Republican majority in the Senate reflecting the judgment of a Republican majority committee, and endorse the conservative nomination of a Republican president for the Supreme Court. It has hardly been a process that could be said to be above politics. It has tested constitutional conventions to the maximum. Only Senator Jeff Flake has shown even a modicum of bipartisanship.

In due course, then, American women may well find it more difficult to exercise their right to an abortion. While the Kavanaugh nomination, if finally successful, may not lead to some swift and absolute reversal of the Roe v Wade judgment, the US Supreme Court may be expected to apply a permissive attitude towards individual states who choose to, for example, close abortion clinics or make contraception more difficult to obtain via company health insurance policies.  

Once appointed, for life, Supreme Court Judge Kavanaugh will be well positioned to tilt the balance of opinion on the court for many years to come, and long after Donald Trump has retired to his golf courses. Judge Kavanagh appears set to be not the least of President Trump’s many baleful legacies.



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