By Evelyn Moradian
The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump looks like another major victory for the right. If confirmed, Kavanaugh could dramatically affect how the court rules on contentious issues such as abortion, religious liberty, and separation of powers.
During his campaign, Trump promised to nominate conservative judges, and he delivered last year with Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. After swing vote Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in June, Trump again narrowed his list of possible nominees to several strong conservatives before choosing Kavanaugh, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Charles Cameron, a Princeton University professor of politics and public affairs, said he doesn’t “think Trump gives a damn about the Supreme Court,” but he believes Kavanaugh is the “perfect” Republican candidate, fulfilling everything the party desires. From abortion to labor unions, Kavanaugh’s views are in line with mainstream conservatism. Cameron chalks up Trump’s selection of Kavanaugh to the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative lawyers, judges, and scholars that has helped Republicans staff the judiciary.
Cameron believes Kavanaugh will be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate barring a scandal—a “smoking gun” that discredits the judge. Likewise, Princeton professor Keith Whittington said he’d be “shocked” if Kavanaugh is not confirmed. Whittington, a conservative who opposed Trump in 2016, found Kavanaugh’s nomination to be a “pleasant surprise,” though he doesn’t believe Kavanaugh will significantly change the direction of the Supreme Court. Despite Whittington’s skepticism of Trump’s commitment to conservatism during the campaign, the professor supports Trump’s handling of judicial nominations.
If Kavanaugh is confirmed, Democrats fear that the Supreme Court will reverse several important decisions—notably Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to an abortion. But both professors argued that the Supreme Court will not overturn that decision outright. Rather, Whittington believes that the court will instead limit abortion by “nibbling away on the margins,” while Cameron said the court will let “the exceptions to the rule destroy the rule.” In other words, although the case may not be overturned, it can be stripped to the point of nothingness.
Roe isn’t the only precedent at risk. Kavanaugh’s nomination could also change how the court approaches presidential power, voting rights, labor, and a host of other issues. But while the nomination fight over Kavanaugh will be heated, Cameron believes it’s only part of a larger picture of polarization.