NEWS
28/09/2018 19:32 BST | Updated 28/09/2018 22:07 BST

The Senate Judiciary Committee's Vote On Brett Kavanaugh - Explained For Brits

'What a railroad job.'

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Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Donald Trump’s embattled nominee for the supreme court is one step closer to being confirmed – despite a devastating hearing on Thursday in which he was accused of sexual assault by a woman he went to high school with.

The Senate Judiciary Committee today voted to go ahead with the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, a day after Dr Christine Blasey Ford testified at an historic committee hearing in Washington DC.

But moderate Republican Senator Jeff Flake called for an FBI investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against the judge before a final Senate vote, meaning it could be delayed for up to a week.

President Trump later ordered the FBI to reopen its investigation.

“As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week,” Trump said in a statement.

Earlier on Friday the committee heard strenuous objections from Democrats some of whom left the room in protest. “What a railroad job,” Democratic Senator, Mazie Hirono, said.

What’s It All About?

Kavanaugh is Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, an incredibly powerful and life-long position that will decide some of the most contentious issues in America.

Since being put forward for the job, three women have come forward and accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.

Despite testimony from one of those women, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, the issue has become highly politically charged, with senators largely voting along party lines.

The Washington Post via Getty Images
Kavanaugh swears in yesterday.

What’s The Allegation?

Christine Blasey Ford said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982 when both were high school students in Maryland. 

She said she was 15 when she attended a party where she encountered Kavanaugh, who was 17 at the time. He and his friend shut her in a room and turned up the music to hide her protests as he assaulted her and covered her mouth to stifle her screams.

What Did Ford Say On Thursday?

Dr Ford told the panel of senators that she believed Kavanaugh was going to rape her during the alleged incident.

She said that she did not want to testify and that she was “terrified” but that she felt it was her “civic duty” to speak out about what she says happened to her when she was a teenager.

Later Senator Dick Durbin asked: “With what degree of certainty to believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?”

She replied: “100%”.

POOL New / Reuters
Christine Blasey Ford, with lawyer Debra S. Katz, left, answers questions at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

How Did Kavanaugh Respond?

Kavanaugh claimed he is the victim of a “grotesque and obvious character assassination” and his name has been “totally and permanently destroyed”.

He also said he “unequivocally and categorically” denied Dr Ford’s allegation, and labelled as “vicious and false” other accusations of sexual misconduct also from the 1980s made by two additional women who did not appear before the panel.

Kavanaugh attacked Democratic senators, saying he was the victim of a calculated and orchestrated political “hit”.

“You may defeat me in the final vote but you’ll never get me to quit,” he said.

Have There Been Other Accusations? 

Yes. In the week since Ford came forward, two other women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. 

Deborah Ramirez alleges that he exposed himself to her and thrust his penis in her face during a party when they were students at Yale University in the early 1980s. She says she was afraid to come forward at the time as she had been drinking when the incident allegedly took place. He has denied the allegation. 

Julie Swetnick was the third woman to come forward. In a signed declaration released by her lawyer, she said Kavanaugh was present at a 1982 party where she was gang raped, but didn’t identify him as an assailant.

Through her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, Swetnick is asking for the opportunity to speak in front of the committee, as Ford is. 

Why Is The Supreme Court Appointment A Big Deal?

The Supreme Court essentially gets the final say on the most important and often most controversial and divisive issues in the USA.

There are nine judges and each serves for life unless they resign, retire or are impeached. 

New judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, meaning replacements are usually liberal or conservative depending on who is in power when they step down.

The life tenure of judges means Presidents can shape US policy for decades after their terms end. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who Kavanaugh would replace, was nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1987.

“We have to pick a great one. We have to pick one that’s going to be there for 40 years, 45 years,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Fargo, North Dakota, earlier this year.

Hasn’t Trump Already Done This?

One of Trump’s first major acts as President was to appoint the conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

The Court’s recent decision to uphold Trump’s controversial travel ban – in which nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen were barred entering the US – was seen as a vindication of his choice. 

What Has Trump Said?

Trump was uncharacteristically quiet on Thursday, the day of the hearings, sending only one tweet the entire day.

Trump came out in support of Kavanaugh, saying his testimony was “powerful, honest, and riveting” and he is a victim of “Democrats’ search and destroy strategy” to “delay, obstruct, and resist” the nomination.

On Friday, Trump said he had not thought “even a little bit” about alternatives if the Senate does not approve Kavanaugh.

He called the hearing an incredible moment in the history of the country, but suggested he was not involving himself in the Senate’s negotiations.

“I’m going to let the Senate handle that. They’ll make their decisions,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

What’s The Current Make-Up Of The Court?

The court has four justices picked by Democratic Presidents, and four picked by Republicans.

Gorsuch’s appointment meant the court consisted of five conservatives and four liberals. Kennedy often swung in his decisions and sided with the liberals on a number of votes, although not in recent months.

Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court during its term that started in October and ended on Wednesday repeatedly ruled for Trump on 5-4 votes, with its four liberals dissenting.

The other two older justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, and Stephen Breyer, 79, are Democratic appointees who would not appear to be going anywhere during a Trump administration if they can help it.

What’s The Even Bigger Picture?

Even before Ford’s allegation, Democrats were experiencing a surge in support that is predicted to allow them to take over both the Senate and the House, meaning Trump will struggle to push through legislation.

Ford’s testimony could be a rallying point for democratic voters, persuading them to go out and vote in the mid-terms, which usually have a much lower turnout overall than presidential elections.