Analysis: Long battle comes to a contentious end, Kavanaugh confirmed
The Supreme Court is back at full capacity.
This past Saturday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh as an associate justice with a 50-48 vote. It concluded what is likely the most partisan and divisive confirmation process in decades, if not in history.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was the only Democrat to vote to confirm Kavanaugh, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski R-Alaska) was the only Republican to come out against confirmation. She asked that her vote be recorded as “present” as a courtesy to fellow Republican, Sen. Steve Daines (R- Mont.), who was not present as he was attending his daughter’s wedding in his home state. Daines would have voted in the affirmative if he was present, so Murkowski paired her vote with Daines’ vote, using a procedure outlined in the rules of the chamber.
Things were contentious as soon as Kavanaugh’s name was announced this summer, but once allegations of sexual assault were made public, first and most notably by Christine Blasey Ford, things were taken up a notch, to say the least. The Senate vote was interrupted several times by protesters in the gallery.
On Sept. 27, when Ford and Kavanaugh separately testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the polarization was taken to a level that possibly even surpassed the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings of 1991.
Ford’s emotional recounting of what she said was a sexual assault by Kavanaugh from when they were in high school was even described as “a very credible witness” and “compelling” by President Trump.
Kavanaugh’s testimony was fiery, and included what many saw as overtly partisan statements. For instance, he claimed the allegations were “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” Many who initially supported the nomination saw this as disqualifying, like former Republican-appointed Justice John Paul Stevens.
Many senators, including Murkowski, saw such statements as too partisan for a Supreme Court justice.
“Even in the face of the worst thing that could happen, a sexual assault allegation … the standard is that a judge must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” she said while explaining her “no” vote this past Friday on the Senate floor.
To add to the drama, on Tuesday, Oct. 2, President Trump seemed to mock Ford’s inability to remember specific details about the night in question. That drew criticism from many Senate Republicans, including Murkowski and two Senators previously thought of as possible swing votes against Kavanaugh: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Both of those Senators eventually voted in favor of confirmation.
The final wrench in the process was the unprecedented step taken by Kavanaugh himself, when he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 4.
It was very clear that Flake, Murkowski, Collins and Manchin were all laboring over their decisions. Any Supreme Court confirmation can make or break careers — for the nominees themselves, and for the senators voting on them. That is magnified when election day is just over a month away.
There are ten Democratic senators that represent states that President Trump won in 2016. Some of them are a sure bet for reelection, but some of them are not.
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jon Tester (D-Mon.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) all fall into that category. All have genuine general election challenges and all came out as “no” votes, in the order in which they are listed above (Tester and Donnelly were on the same day).
Out of all of the Trump-state Democrats, Heitkamp has what, according to polling, is the highest chance of defeat in November, facing current Rep. Kevin Cramer (D-N.D.). Heitkamp and Donnelly, along with Manchin, were the only three Democrats who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Court last year in what was a 54-45 vote.
None of the three Republicans who were in question — Collins, Murkowski and Flake — are up for re-election this year. Collins will be up in 2020, Murkowski in 2022 and Flake is retiring from the Senate this January (his seat, however, will be up for re-election this year).
This confirmation battle has also given the Senate delegation from Delaware a bit of exposure. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) has long been a “no” vote on this Kavanaugh nomination, and due to his friendship and deal last week with Flake, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is also a firm “no,” has been getting a lot of national press attention.
Coons and Flake did a joint interview on 60 Minutes this past week and spoke together at The Atlantic’s “The Constitution in Crisis” forum as well.
Senators on both sides of the aisle have decried the process that led them all to this point. Coons is certainly part of that group, as is Murkowski.
“I truly hope that we can be at that place where we can move forward in a manner that shows greater respect, greater comity,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor after she announced her position. “We owe it to the people of America to return to a less rancorous process.”