Court Battles

Kavanaugh has quiet first day on the bench

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While fiery protests drew large crowds to the steps of the Supreme Court over the weekend to oppose his pending confirmation, the first day of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s career on the high court was relatively uneventful.

Trump’s second nominee, who was confirmed Saturday amid controversy surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct, made it through his first oral arguments Tuesday without any interruptions from protesters inside the courtroom.

{mosads}Kavanaugh took his place on the bench next to Justice Elena Kagan, an appointee of former President Obama, and listened intently to the attorneys before him. The newly minted justice asked nearly a dozen questions during Tuesday’s cases, which challenged the scope of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).

The 1984 law imposes a mandatory minimum 15-year prison sentence on felons who are caught in possession of a firearm and have three prior violent felony convictions.

Kavanaugh focused his questions on the court’s prior precedent as the justices weighed what level of force in a robbery is required for the crime to be considered a violent felony under the ACCA.

He said the court’s ruling in a case known as Curtis Johnson v. United States requires “a substantial degree of force.” 

“How are we supposed to deal with that language in the Curtis Johnson opinion if we’re trying to follow Curtis Johnson strictly?” Kavanaugh asked Frederick Liu, the assistant to the solicitor general who argued a Florida man’s unarmed robbery should qualify as a violent felony.           

The justices were in a jovial mood as they questioned if shoving, grabbing and pinching count as physical force. Justice Sonia Sotomayor at one point pinched Justice Neil Gorsuch, drawing laughs from the crowd. 

Kavanaugh and Kagan were spotted several times leaning in to chat and chuckle with one another.

In the second set of arguments, the court grappled with whether a burglary of a vehicle or mobile home qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA.

“You might have gotten a hint that a majority of the court really hates ACCA and is picking it apart bit by bit by bit,” Justice Samuel Alito said at one point.

The court beefed up security measures for Kavanaugh’s first day, lining the steps of the court with barricades and eliminating the line that usually gives the public a chance to view the court’s proceedings in three-minute increments.

Aside from the 50 to 60 people standing in the regular public viewing line, it was quiet and calm outside the court Tuesday morning. Many of those waiting were there to support Kavanaugh, not oppose him.

“We wanted there to be people who believe in civility sitting in the benches, so other people who were here to disrupt wouldn’t have seats,” said Stephanie Lilley, of Washington, D.C., who was in line with four of her friends. “I don’t think clawing at the doors of the Supreme Court is a way to further the discussion.”

But just before 9 a.m., a line of protesters, some dressed as handmaids from the popular television drama “Handmaid’s Tale,” rounded the corner chanting “We will not forget. We do not consent” and “Say it loud, say it clear, Kavanaugh’s not welcome here.”

“You’re not welcome here,” Barbara Richards, 62, of Florida, shouted back. 

Richards, who was standing in line with her husband, said she campaigned for Trump. The two are in the D.C. region to celebrate their recent nuptials.

Teva Gabis-Levine, of Albuquerque, N.M., who was among the protesters marching to the court’s entrance, said he wants Kavanaugh to know that he will be under constant scrutiny.

But Gabis-Levine said he didn’t have any plans to try to protest inside.

“I don’t necessarily have the flexibility to come back for multiple court dates if I get arrested,” he said.

Another protester, Lisa Fithian of Austin, Texas, said she was arrested amid protests on Saturday and she couldn’t tolerate Kavanaugh’s first day on the bench.

“This is not over,” she said. “This will unleash a whole new wave of resistance.”

Inside the court, Kavanaugh was met by friendly faces. His wife, Ashley, and their two daughters were all in attendance for his first appearance on the bench.

Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh replaced, was also present in the courtroom.

While Trump held a ceremonial swearing in for Kavanaugh in a prime-time event at the White House on Monday night, Chief Justice John Roberts said the court will have a special sitting at a later date to welcome the new judge.

“Justice Kavanaugh, we wish you a long and happy career in our common calling,” he said Tuesday.

Updated at 2:54 p.m.

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