Why Republicans Are In a Hurry to Put Kavanaugh on Supreme Court

This may be their last chance to defend the conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Building of the United States Supreme Court in Washington DC, January 29, 2008
Building of the United States Supreme Court in Washington DC, January 29, 2008 (Tabitha Kaylee Hawk)

Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of attempting to rape a young woman in prep school and Democrats have been denied the chance to read tens of thousands of documents from his time as a lawyer in the George W. Bush Administration. Yet Republicans are rushing to confirm his nomination.

Why? Because they worry this may be their last chance to defend their majority on the Supreme Court.

Midterms

If Republicans delayed Kavanaugh’s confirmation, or if President Donald Trump withdrew his nomination, the party might not be able to confirm a Supreme Court justice in time for the midterm elections in November.

Although most polls show Democrats winning a majority only in the House of Representatives, not the Senate — which alone must approve Supreme Court nominations — there is still, according to FiveThirtyEight, a one-in-three chance Republicans will lose their majority in the upper chamber as well. If that happens, Trump would have to nominate a judge who could get support from both parties.

Trump ally

Democrats suspect Trump is keen on Kavanaugh because the judge does not believe a sitting president can be indicted or tried.

For Trump, that makes Kavanaugh an ally.

Five of the president’s former campaign officials have been indicted or convicted. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s support for Trump in the 2016 election is closing in on the White House. If a case were to reach the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh could cast the deciding vote in Trump’s favor.

Four of the Supreme Court’s justices were appointed by Democrats and four by Republicans.

The long term

Longer term, changing demographics and party coalitions compel the Republicans to act fast.

As Edward Luce puts it in the Financial Times, the prospect of an all-male, all-white Republican Judiciary Committee approving a lifetime sinecure for a white Republican man, raised in the wealthy suburbs of Washington DC and educated at an elite prep school and Yale, is unlikely to be forgotten. “Many Americans will see the patriarchy siding with one of its own.”

At a time when the country is becoming less white, and male privilege is on the wane, the Republicans look out of date.

The Washington Post reports that Democrats have nominated record numbers of black, female and LGBT candidates this year. The Republican Party, by contrast, remains predominantly old, white and male.

Republicans know their time is running out. The only reason they are in power is that America’s electoral system gives a bonus to the areas where their voters live (and they have milked that advantage by gerrymandering congressional districts). When that built-in advantage collapses, Republicans will have only the judiciary to defend the status quo on issues like abortion, guns, health care and labor relations.

Hence their attempt to appoint as many appeals-court judges as possible while they control the Senate and Trump is president. And hence their determination to put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.