Gavel Drop: What’s the GOP Hiding in the Brett Kavanaugh Documents?

Inquiring minds—and Senate Democrats—want to know.

[Photo: Brett Kavanaugh walks with an group of people]
Hearings about whether U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will secede Anthony Kennedy on the bench start September 4. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

“Unprecedented” is starting to lose all meaning with Republicans in charge under the Trump administration because, well, just about everything these folks do is an unprecedented departure from governance norms. This is especially true with the administration’s handling of federal judicial nominations and ESPECIALLY true with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Republicans insist that Senate Democrats, and by proxy the American people, don’t need to see Kavanaugh’s complete record before voting to confirm him to a lifetime appointment to the most powerful court in the country. Democrats disagree and have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to make sure that his record gets disclosed.

In the meantime, Senate Republicans have announced they plan to hold Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings right after the Labor Day holiday.

With the Kavanaugh nomination has come a renewed media focus on the precarious nature of legal abortion in this country. But as this piece from the Appeal points out, the threat of the state prosecuting people for a failed pregnancy outcome is a present danger, not some future possibility.

The Trump administration faces yet another court order demanding it restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before the end of the month. But Republicans are hoping a competing lawsuit in Texas will declare the program unconstitutional. If that happens, the Roberts Court could be forced to step in and decide the fate of the program—and the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients, who used the program to gain temporary work privileges and protection from deportation after being brought to the country as undocumented minors—as soon as this fall.

It was a really bad, no good, horrible week for the administration in the federal courts. In addition to the DACA ruling, a federal court once again blocked the administration’s purported ban on transgender people enlisting and serving in the military. Not a lot of winning happening for the administration in the federal courts at the moment.

A former Nebraska Supreme Court judge who resigned rather than face an ethics investigation following #MeToo allegations has a new gig defending Sarpy County, Nebraska, from allegations that it’s hostile toward developers of low-income housing. It’s not a full-time job, but he’ll get a cool $32,000 in taxpayer-funded compensation to do it after leaving his post when reports of sexual comments came to light. As one legislator put it, “the expression is, ‘crime doesn’t pay.’ Well, judicial misbehavior does pay in Nebraska.” Once again, men fail up.

Another federal court issued an important ruling in election transparency, rejecting election regulations that allowed very large donors to political nonprofits to remain anonymous.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s latest limits on asylum seekers, among them Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recommendation to deny most asylum claims related to domestic and gang violence.

The conservative legal advocacy organization The Becket Fund is again suing the University of Iowa on behalf of a student organization that lost official university recognition for discriminating against students on the basis of sexual orientation. The Becket Fund had previously successfully represented another group, Business Leaders in Christ, when the university stripped that organization of its official recognition in 2017 for denying a leadership position to an openly gay student. 

Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging voter ID requirements in the state. In July, a lower court blocked officials from enforcing provisions that would shorten the time to cast absentee ballots, require absentee ballots to include a voter verification number, or permit local election officials to toss out ballots if the official determines the voter’s signature doesn’t match one on file. The next day, the state Supreme Court ruled to keep the restrictions blocked.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg  just celebrated 25 years on that bench. Here’s to another 25 years, RBG.