After shifting the balance of power at the Supreme Court during his presidency, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cast a famously short vote in favor of Brett Kavanaugh during the nomination process.
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The presence of lawmakers in America’s halls of justice might remain an elusive dream for those living in some European countries, but their work could make for new legal drama in future U.S. election years.
After outlasting incoming Democratic presidents in the U.S. Senate, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell directed a legislative punch to the Democrats by removing the filibuster from confirmations to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate courts.
“What I decided to do was to work with the Senate Democrats and our allies to cut them off at the knees,” McConnell said at the time.
Despite Democrats’ plans to filibuster Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, the decades-long filibuster system for Supreme Court nominations broke down completely.
After Democrats regained control of the Senate in the November midterm elections, it looked like another plan was in the works. But Biden, who was still serving as vice president at the time, spent much of his time in office trying to ratchet up the level of objection to Supreme Court nominees.
In 1992, for example, Biden almost blocked the confirmation of Miguel Estrada, President George H.W. Bush’s nominee to fill a seat left open when Sandra Day O’Connor retired.
Biden’s plan was to upend an amendment that was made to the Defense Authorization Act that prohibited the use of federal money to provide abortion services.
The amendment limited federal funding for a procedure that abortion rights activists deemed essential in most cases, but anti-abortion lawmakers argued that the procedure, commonly known as an abortion, might make abortions unnecessary, and some took issue with its use of government money to directly fund the procedure.
The amendment passed narrowly in the House and Senate, and the fate of the anti-abortion regulation remained in question.
Though Democrats in the Senate were unified on the policy, Biden led the fight to end the internal debate about how the provision worked.
Biden was blocked by McConnell, but he won. Estrada was confirmed after he submitted a 25-page letter discussing judicial philosophy, which ultimately was not an issue for activists in the Senate.
“I felt that when I looked at Miguel Estrada, I looked at him in a particular light,” Biden said at the time. “I am looking for a person who has a love of public service, an absolute sincerity in their disposition toward public service.”
After making Estrada’s form letter public, Biden wrote a letter to Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, calling Estrada “one of the finest Americans I have ever known.”
When Estrada was confirmed, Biden wrote a second letter to a member of the Senate, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, announcing Estrada’s confirmation.
“We were on a mission,” Biden said. “A new generation of conservative voices were being placed on the court. They needed more moderate voices. That I felt passionately about.”
One person whose opinion was not so important to Biden was the person who would eventually become the next justice in the senior branch of the U.S. Supreme Court: William Thomas, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush in 2001.
Biden opposed Thomas, saying that the man he was nominating was “one of the most radical politicians in America today.”
Thomas was not confirmed by the Senate, but three years later, Biden was serving as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, and in that role he pushed through Thomas’ confirmation in 2003.
“Now, I realize there was a tremendous amount of opposition to this man,” Biden said. “It was not met, no, by the people. There were all these thoughtful people who argued against this.”