Amid extensive controversy, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was voted in with a close 50–48 endorsement into a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court on Saturday, Oct. 6. While it was viewed as a democratic process, many see it as a deterioration of the public trust within the judicial system, with multiple sexual assault allegations and an FBI Investigation that only lasted a few days. Furthermore, many see Kavanaugh as incapable of maintaining impartiality in the courtroom.
With the confirmation finalized and little hope of it being undone, a series of speculations and questions emerge: Will there be a vote on Roe vs. Wade? Will Kavanaugh act as an extension of President Donald Trump and increase the power of the executive branch?
Isabella McShea ’20, the former co-chair of the Student Organization for Sexual Safety, is one of many concerned with the new Supreme Court justice. “Overall, Kavanaugh’s confirmation is going to solidify the already conservative-leaning Supreme Court in a concerning direction,” McShea said. “The opportunity to overturn Roe vs. Wade, specifically, would have devastating effects for the most vulnerable populations in our society.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 9, Kavanaugh took his first seat in the Supreme Court to hear a total of three cases that have vexed the justices. The main issues covered fell under the Armed Career Criminal Act. This act requires longer minimum sentences for those convicted of possessing firearms in federal court if they have been previously convicted for three violent felonies or serious drug charges. While these were relatively minor cases, one of the biggest upcoming cases determines whether there should be a question about citizenship status on the U.S. 2020 census. This is incredibly important as the census physically shapes the political districts, which then determine how much power each state has in the electoral college.
With Trump securing the presidency through the Electoral College — despite failing to win the popular vote in the 2016 election — the fear is that Kavanaugh will act partially and require the citizenship question on the census in order to undercount Democratic-leaning areas. The issue with a citizenship question on the census is that it may discourage undocumented citizens to submit a response. With many undocumented people living in blue-leaning metropolitan areas, un-submitted census responses would undercount population in these localities and give a disproportionate amount of power to rural, red-leaning political districts.
The current administration insists that there are no ulterior motives to the citizenship question and that it is meant to reinforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was disproved when the New York Attorney General filed an internal memo that revealed that Commerce Secretary Ross had been resisted by the Department of Justice when he requested that this question be included.
Additionally, some conservative groups are pushing for the change of political districts to be based on eligible voters instead of total population. Voter districts are currently determined by total population so that those not eligible to vote would still be given political power. By basing it on eligible voter status, it would drastically reduce the power that many city-centers have in the state capitol.
The vote on the census question is still being worked out in the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals but is expected to reach the Supreme Court. The conservative-leaning court has yet to make it clear which way they will vote. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court seat, while upsetting many, once again emphasizes the importance of voting in the upcoming midterm elections.