New Kavanaugh claims: What’s the impact?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening:

Allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were the source of intense debate during his confirmation hearing last year. The issue has resurfaced, after a story published in the New York Times that adds detail to an account from Deborah Ramirez, one of Kavanaugh's Yale classmates, who says he exposed himself to her at a party.

The story also includes a previously unreported accusation from someone who said he witnessed Kavanaugh’s friends push “his penis into the hand of a female student” during the same period. The Times later revised its story to add the fact that the unnamed woman reportedly doesn’t remember the incident. Much of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing focused on a decades-old assault allegation from Christine Blasey Ford that the Times article’s authors said they found “credible” in their reporting. Kavanaugh denies all of the allegations.

The story also includes new claims that the FBI chose not to interview dozens of people who could have corroborated Ramirez’s account or follow-up when a Democratic senator brought the new accusation to its attention.

The claims have reignited tensions over Kavanaugh’s seat on the Supreme Court. Several Democratic presidential candidates have called for him to be impeached. President Trump, on the other hand, said Kavanaugh is being “Assaulted by lies and Fake News!” and said the Justice Department should “come to his rescue.”

Why there’s debate:

Much of the debate in recent days echoes the one that took place in the leadup to Kavanaugh’s appointment to the court. Republicans have questioned the validity of the allegations and claim they are politically motivated. Many Democrats have reiterated their view that his alleged behavior, and their belief he may have perjured himself during his confirmation hearing, should disqualify him from the court.

The information in the New York Times story might not be enough to shift people from these entrenched postures, whether they applaud or scorn Kavanaugh’s presence on the court. One of the story’s writers lamented the “rush to judgment” and “absence of truly introspective thinking” while discussing the response to its publication on Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast.

However, there may be consequences from the Kavanaugh saga being scrutinized in public again. The controversy has resurfaced at a time when the Democrats now control the House of Representatives and are in the midst of a presidential primary. Both of these factors could empower them to keep the issue in the news in a way they may not have been able to before.

One element of the new reporting that may lead to substantive action is intensified attention paid to the FBI's investigation into Kavanugh’s behavior before his confirmation. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said the inquiry was a “sham” that was hampered by pressure from prominent Republicans.

What’s next:

Democratic leadership in the House has thrown cold water on the notion of impeachment proceedings against Kavanaugh, citing the unlikelihood that the Senate would come close to enough votes to remove him. It’s possible Democrats could launch their own inquiry into claims against Kavanaugh or whether the FBI’s investigation was credible.

Regardless, Kavanaugh's confirmation will likely be a major point of debate for the 2020 election, both at the presidential level and in crucial Senate races. It could be a defining issue in the reelection bid of Maine Republican Susan Collins, who is seen as casting a key swing vote in Kavanaugh’s favor.


From the Left

The new allegations further erode the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

“It was Kavanaugh who said in his opening statement to the Judiciary Committee at his 2018 hearing: ‘The Supreme Court must never, never be viewed as a partisan institution.’ But it’s impossible not to view the court in exactly that way, thanks to a GOP determined to control it by any means at its disposal. It’s why questions — about Kavanaugh and the court itself — will continue to haunt us.” — E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post

The Kavanaugh hearing has shown Republicans they can get away with ramming through any judge they want.

“If you think this was a singular event, don’t be too sure. If given the chance, Republicans would surely rush through another Supreme Court confirmation, facts and investigations be damned.” — Robin Abacarian, Los Angeles Times

An inquiry into claims of an illegitimate FBI investigation could be damaging to Republicans.

“Democrats could use the scandal as another cudgel against Trump, who has ardently defended Kavanaugh and, in doing so, tied himself to the embattled judge. A congressional investigation into the Kavanaugh confirmation could paint a deeply unflattering portrait of Republicans’ conduct in ramming him through to a 50-48 confirmation.” — Eric Lutz, Vanity Fair

Kavanaugh will likely be a major issue in the 2020 election.

“The new allegations about him and the investigation into his conduct have reignited what is arguably the most contentious single political battle of the Trump era. It also was and is a fight worth having, and one that shouldn’t be forgotten come election year.” — Chas Danner, New York

The integrity of our institutions is at risk if the claims are not earnestly pursued.

“If presidents, cabinet members, and jurists who lie to Congress are not investigated and impeached when evidence of wrongdoing is revealed, then the system of checks and balances is rendered meaningless.” — John Nichols, The Nation

There will be no substantive results out of these new claims.

“The horrifying thing is that we knew enough to know all of this last fall — and then, as now, there was no road to accountability, no way to demand a real investigation, no path to delay the process that would end in a lifetime appointment.” — Dahlia Lithwick, Slate

Down the middle

Kavanaugh’s seat on the Supreme Court is safe.

“... no matter how many books get written about Kavanaugh’s past, his future is almost certainly on the Supreme Court.” — Chris Cillizza, CNN

There will be intense scrutiny on the court’s decisions in the near future.

“...this term, which opens in October, the Court could face high-profile cases involving sex discrimination, abortion rights, and more. The new details likely mean Kavanaugh and the Court as a whole will face even more scrutiny as they make decisions that affect Americans’ lives.”
— Anna North, Vox

From the Right

Democrats will try to use Kavanaugh to delegitimize a possible decision on Roe v. Wade.

“The hope of the Democratic party and most of the media is to delegitimize Brett Kavanaugh and hence any Supreme Court decision in which he joins a 5–4 majority. The ground is being laid to make the case that, should Roe v. Wade be overturned in such a manner, that decision would exist under a cloud.” — Kyle Smith, National Review

A potential Democratic president will be forced to take action by political pressure.

“ seems quite likely at this point that any Democratic president elected in 2020 would be under significant pressure from the Left to, at a minimum, reopen an FBI investigation into Kavanaugh that can be framed as an effort to uncover the truth and ensure the integrity of our institutions.” — Philip Klein, Washington Examiner

Democrats will rerun the Kavanaugh playbook if Trump nominates another justice.

“I think we have to worry about what happens if Trump eventually has another appointee that these kind of attacks are going to continue.” — Carrie Severino, Fox News

The fight over the Supreme Court makes 2020 Senate races more important.

“The partisan relitigation of Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation is an embarrassment to the country, but it is useful in putting the 2020 election stakes in sharp relief. The future of the Supreme Court is on the ballot in Senate races as much as in the presidential race.”
— Editorial, Wall Street Journal

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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: AP