Kavanaugh Takes Court Bench After Trump Declares Him Innocent

(Bloomberg) -- Justice Brett Kavanaugh made his first appearance on the Supreme Court bench Tuesday, a day after all nine justices attended a White House ceremony where President Donald Trump stoked the partisan fires by declaring him innocent of sexual-assault allegations.

The acrimonious confirmation fight over Kavanaugh has cast a cloud over a Supreme Court that prides itself on being above partisan politics. Protests have erupted outside the court in Washington in recent days, and they continued Tuesday. The controversy presents a challenge for Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative who has worked to protect the court’s reputation as a trusted arbiter of the law.

“You, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent,” Trump said Monday night at the White House. Kavanaugh, acknowledging the “contentious and emotional” fight over his confirmation, said he had “no bitterness” and promised to “always be a team player on the team of nine.”

The justices are hearing arguments in two cases. Kavanaugh’s wife and two daughters attended, as did retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh has replaced.

Kavanaugh spoke for the first time about 25 minutes into the court session, asking a skeptical question to the attorney for a criminal defendant.

Protesters arrived in front of the Supreme Court building an hour before the arguments began -- most of them women and some children, carrying signs that said “Unfit to Serve” and “Kava-Nope” and chanting anti-Kavanaugh slogans such as “We do not consent!”

The court is hearing arguments in two formerly low-profile cases involving the U.S. Armed Career Criminal Act. That 1984 law imposes a mandatory 15-year sentence on people convicted of federal gun crimes if they already have three convictions, under either federal or state law, for serious drug offenses or violent felonies.

The court has grappled repeatedly with the exact reach of ACCA, as the law is known, mostly trying to determine what sorts of state-law crimes qualify.

The Kavanaugh confirmation fight looms over a midterm election on Nov. 6 where control of Congress is up for grabs. It has inflamed partisan ire in both parties and helped Republicans close the enthusiasm advantage among Democrats, which may help the GOP hold the Senate majority if it continues until Election Day.

It also fueled a #MeToo movement and gender gap that could cost Republicans the House by alienating college-educated women who will be pivotal in districts likely to determine which party controls the chamber in January. It’ll be a challenge for Republicans to translate a victory in the Kavanaugh battle to the ballot box.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.