Friday 18 October 2019

USA in suspense with Supreme Court vote scheduled for today

Waiting: Brett Kavanaugh has been quizzed over sexual abuse allegations
Waiting: Brett Kavanaugh has been quizzed over sexual abuse allegations

Rozina Sabur

The US Senate is preparing for a crucial initial vote on Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court today, as one of the most significant moments in US politics this year comes to a head.

After a tough confirmation process involving multiple allegations of sexual assault, the final vote over Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation could come as early as tomorrow.

A preliminary vote was delayed earlier to allow the first woman to accuse him of sexual misconduct, Christine Blasey Ford, to give her account to the Senate.

It was a moment, as Mr Trump put it, that was a "very important day in the history of our country".

Republicans and Democrats are acutely aware the upcoming vote could shape America for decades to come.

The nine-member US Supreme Court will likely preside over cases that touch on issues ranging from abortion, gun rights, immigration, labour rights to campaign financing - and Mr Kavanaugh may be a key swing vote.

If he is confirmed by the Senate, the US Supreme Court will likely have its most conservative bench in several decades.

Given his testimony, during which he accused Democrats of an "orchestrated political hit", there are also questions over whether he would have to recuse himself from a vast number of cases that appear before the court.

A yes vote could also spark a backlash among women voters, who may punish Republican candidates standing in November's mid-term elections.

A number of women's rights activists have lobbied their senators to vote down Mr Kavanaugh's nomination since the sexual assault allegations came to light.

What is more, a vote for Mr Kavanaugh may not spell the end of his troubles.

If Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, which pollsters deem likely, they could call for investigations into Mr Kavanaugh's past conduct.

Democratic operatives are even reportedly pondering the possibility of impeaching Mr Kavanaugh - although that would be extremely unlikely to succeed.

Impeaching a judge follows the same process as impeaching a president, requiring the House of Representatives to vote on the motion then move to the Senate for a trial.

However two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favour of removing an official from office.

If the nomination does not pass the Senate, the first question for Mr Trump is whether to pick another nominee or give Mr Kavanaugh a second shot.

Senator Lindsey Graham, an ally of the president, has suggested Mr Trump should renominate the judge if his nomination fails the first time around.

Mr Graham argued that this would make the Supreme Court nomination a key issue on the ballot in November's elections - and create a surge in conservative voters heading to the polls.

Many Republican voters feel the claims against Mr Kavanaugh are Democratic smear tactics and they will mobilise their votes in November.

During his election campaign, Mr Trump pledged to pick justices who oppose Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme court decision that legalised abortion in the US, a key issue among his base.

However the political make-up of the next Congress will have a huge impact on who Mr Trump puts forward for America's highest court.

The president will have to pick another nominee which has the support of his base but one who has the bi-partisan support needed to be confirmed by the Senate.

Republicans have been determined to rush through Mr Kavanaugh's nomination before the November elections because passing their preferred candidate will be a far greater task if they lose their majority.

A no vote will have implications for the rulings the Supreme Court makes in the near future too - it has been sitting since October 1 with just eight judges, four Republicans and four Democrats.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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