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As US Senate finishes Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Supreme Court confirmation seems likely

Testimony against the nominee was provided by John Dean, the former White House counsel to Nixon who cooperated with Watergate prosecutors

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 5:20am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 6:29am

After two marathon days questioning Brett Kavanaugh, US senators concluded his Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Friday by hearing from friends, foes and legal experts making their cases for and against the judge who is likely to push the high court further to the right.

Abortion was a main focus throughout the week-long hearing, and on Friday, New York University law professor Melissa Murray told lawmakers that Kavanaugh would provide the “necessary fifth vote that would utterly eviscerate” the Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that established a constitutional demand for access to abortion.

John Dean, President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel who cooperated with prosecutors during the Watergate investigation, said the high court with Kavanaugh on it would be “the most presidential powers-friendly court in the modern era”.

On the Republican side, witnesses testifying in support of Kavanaugh, included long-time friends and former law clerks. They talked about his intelligence and open-mindedness, calling him “thoughtful”, ‘’humble”, ‘’wonderfully warm” and a “fair-minded and independent jurist”. A number praised his concerted efforts to hire both minorities and women as law clerks.

Senate Democrats had worked into the night on Thursday on Kavanaugh’s final day of questioning in a last, ferocious attempt to paint him as a foe of abortion rights and a likely defender of US President Donald Trump.

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But Kavanaugh, a 53-year-old appellate judge, stuck to a well-rehearsed script throughout his testimony, providing only glimpses of his judicial stances while avoiding any serious mistakes that might jeopardise his confirmation.

With his questioning over, he seemed on his way to becoming the court’s 114th justice. Republicans hope to confirm him in time for the first day of the new Supreme Court term, October 1.

On Friday, Democratic witnesses expressed concern about Kavanaugh’s record on a range of issues including affirmative action, the rights of people with disabilities, access to birth control and abortion.

Democrats have portrayed Kavanaugh as a justice who might vote to roll back or overturn the Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion. Their hope is that, with Senate Democrats in the minority 51-49, two Republican senators who support abortion rights could break from their party and vote against him.

Democratic witnesses also included a student who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and Rochelle Garza, the legal guardian for a pregnant immigrant teenager whose quest for an abortion Kavanaugh would have delayed last year.

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Yale law school professor Akhil Reed Amar, a liberal testifying in support of Kavanaugh, had a message for Democratic senators: “Don’t be mad. He’s smart. Be careful what you wish for. Our party controls neither the White House nor the Senate. If you torpedo Kavanaugh you’ll likely end up with someone worse.”

Late in the day, lawmakers heard from former White House counsel Dean.

With Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election ongoing, Democrats have spent part of Kavanaugh’s hearing trying to get his views on presidential power, including whether a president can be forced to testify in a criminal investigation or pardon himself.

Kavanaugh didn’t answer, citing the practice of past nominees who have declined to answer questions that could come before them as a justice.

But Dean predicted that with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, it would be “the most presidential powers-friendly court in the modern era.”

Nixon, said Dean, “left because the man at his core had a respect for the rule of law” while Trump “could care less about the rule of law”.

Senators on the Judiciary Committee are likely to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation on September 20 with a vote by the full Senate the following week.