Brett Kavanaugh's angry denunciation of Senate Democrats at his confirmation hearing could reinforce views of the Supreme Court as a political institution at a time of stark partisan division and when the court already is sharply split between liberals and conservatives.
The Supreme Court nominee called the sexual misconduct allegations against him a "calculated and orchestrated political hit" by Democrats angry that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election. Kavanaugh went further than Clarence Thomas, who in 1991 attacked the confirmation process but didn't single out a person or political party, when he confronted allegations that he sexually harassed Anita Hill.
The comments injected a new level of bitter partisanship in an already pitched battle over the future of the Supreme Court and replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, frequently the decisive and swing vote on the most important issues of the day. Kavanaugh is more conservative than Kennedy and his ascendance to the high court would entrench conservative control of the bench for years.
"No matter what happens ... I think the court is the ultimate loser here. I think Judge Kavanaugh could have made the exact same points without making reference to the Clintons or Democrats, without going down that road," said Josh Blackman, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. "It's an optics thing. I don't think he'll vote any differently because of what happened in the past 10 days, but what will change is how people perceive it."
In his pointed remarks, Kavanaugh said he was a victim of character assassination orchestrated by Democrats. "This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups," he said.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday promoted a female district judge to the Supreme Court in Iowa, the only state where all of its current justices are men.
Susan Christensen will be the first woman on Iowa's high court in roughly eight years. The appointment doesn't require confirmation by lawmakers for Christensen to take the bench.
During brief remarks from her formal office at the state Capitol, Reynolds praised Christensen's background, which most recently includes being a district court judge in the Fourth Judicial District in southwest Iowa. She previously worked as an assistant county attorney and a district associate judge.
Reynolds prefaced Christensen's announcement by saying that Iowans need "judges who understand the proper role of the courts within our government. Judges who will apply the law, and not make it."
The last woman to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court was Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, who lost her retention election in 2010. Ternus was part of a unanimous decision in 2009 that effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the state. Groups opposing same-sex marriage then led a successful campaign to get Ternus and two other justices voted out of the court.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh suggested several years ago that the unanimous high court ruling in 1974 that forced President Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes, leading to the end of his presidency, may have been wrongly decided.
Kavanaugh was taking part in a roundtable discussion with other lawyers when he said at three different points that the decision in U.S. v. Nixon, which marked limits on a president's ability to withhold information needed for a criminal prosecution, may have come out the wrong way.
A 1999 magazine article about the roundtable was part of thousands of pages of documents that Kavanaugh has provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the confirmation process. The committee released the documents on Saturday.
Kavanaugh's belief in robust executive authority already is front and center in his nomination by President Donald Trump to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The issue could assume even greater importance if special counsel Robert Mueller seeks to force Trump to testify in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"But maybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so. Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch by holding that the courts had power and jurisdiction to order the president to disclose information in response to a subpoena sought by a subordinate executive branch official. That was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do not appreciate sufficiently...Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision," Kavanaugh said in a transcript of the discussion that was published in the January-February 1999 issue of the Washington Lawyer.
A deeply divided Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the nation's public employee unions Wednesday that likely will result in a loss of money, members and political muscle.
After three efforts in 2012, 2014 and 2016 fell short, the court's conservative majority ruled 5-4 that unions cannot collect fees from non-members to help defray the costs of collective bargaining. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the decision, announced on the final day of the court's term, with dissents from Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
About 5 million workers could be affected by the decision overruling the court's 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education — those who pay dues or "fair-share" fees to unions in 22 states where public employees can be forced to contribute. Workers in 28 states already cannot be forced to join or pay unions.
"We recognize that the loss of payments from nonmembers may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members," Alito wrote. "But we must weigh these disadvantages against the considerable windfall that unions have received under Abood for the past 41 years."
From the bench, he noted that Illinois, whose Republican governor initiated the challenge, "has serious financial problems" that are exacerbated by costly union contracts. Gov. Bruce Rauner has sought to renegotiate public employee contracts.
Kagan's main dissent for the four liberal justices accused the court of "weaponizing the First Amendment in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy."
"It wanted to pick the winning side in what should be -- and until now has been -- an energetic policy debate," she wrote. "Today, that healthy -- that democratic -- debate ends. The majority has adjudged who should prevail."
Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote against what conservative opponents have labeled a form of compelled speech. The money helps labor unions maintain political power in some of the nation's most populous states, including California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.