President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court selection sweepstakes ended, as promoted, Monday night with the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The 53-year-old long ago ingratiated himself with the conservative Washington elite, working as an aide to former President George W. Bush, and, before that, as an investigator for special counsel Kenneth Starr, during his wide-ranging inquest into the financial and private affairs of then-President Bill Clinton. In spite of that experience (or maybe because of it), Kavanaugh has more recently asserted that sitting presidents should be “excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship” (including being subject to indictment, prosecution, and trial) because it would prove, as he saw it, too distracting—a sentiment that, no doubt, endeared him to Trump.
That apparent evolution aside, the nominee’s long paper trail and the right’s extensive vetting have given most in official Washington (and many among the media who cover it) the sense that they know where Kavanaugh stands. But, as with the law, some things are open to interpretation. With a number of monumental questions working their way to the High Court, further examination is essential.
The good-natured hemming and hawing of recent nominees notwithstanding, there is no law, nor precedent, that prohibits the members of the Senate tasked with Kavanaugh’s confirmation from asking tough questions about important issues that might come before the Court. With that in mind, The Nation has asked some of the people who make it their business to watch these important legal developments to help us (and the distinguished members of the Senate Judiciary Committee) better understand what a Justice Kavanaugh would do to US law, and to American society.