Would Kavanaugh Confirmation Change Public View of Court?

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When Clarence Thomas joined the Supreme Court in 1991 after a bruising confirmation hearing in which former employee Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment, Justice Byron White told him, “It doesn’t matter how you got here. All that matters now is what you do here.” That view could be tested again if the Senate confirms Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who’s facing allegations by California professor Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her when they were in high school, the Associated Press reports. Kavanaugh who, like Thomas, denied the allegation against him, is scheduled to appear before senators Monday. (Ford may still testify next Thursday, but only if agreement can be reached on “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,” the attorney said. Meanwhile, President Trump criticized Ford by name, saying that if the alleged attack was that “bad,” she would have filed charges.)

If Kavanaugh does become a justice, court watchers will be looking to see whether his tumultuous confirmation affects him on the bench and whether having two justices who faced allegations about their treatment of women alters the public’s perception of the court, particularly in cases on abortion and gender discrimination. Those who have studied or know Thomas say his confirmation didn’t change the kind of justice he  became. He is now 70 and the court’s most conservative member. Ralph Rossum, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and the author of a book about Thomas’ legal philosophy, said Thomas’ “long and withering” confirmation didn’t make him any less willing to write unpopular opinions or interpret the Constitution as he sees it. “What it didn’t do is influence him on the bench,” said Rossum, citing a dissent Thomas wrote in which only he and Justice Antonin Scalia would have ruled against an inmate beaten in prison.

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