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Will the Kavanaugh saga tarnish the Supreme Court’s image?

As Justice Kavanaugh’s tenure on the Supreme Court begins, echoes from his contentious confirmation hearings remain. Will the anger and partisanship surrounding this appointment damage public perception of the Supreme Court? Marcia Coyle from the National Law Journal joins Judy Woodruff to report on Kavanaugh's first day on the bench and how the court’s new makeup might affect upcoming cases.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're already in week two of this fall's Supreme Court term. But today is day one for its newest member, Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

    The White House marked the occasion last night, holding a ceremonial swearing-in, with the other Supreme Court justices in attendance. Kavanaugh's nomination had been roiled by sexual misconduct allegations, allegations he denies.

    And at last night's event, President Trump went out of his way to defend Kavanaugh and blast his accusers.

  • Donald Trump:

    On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure.

    Our country, a man or a woman, must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Donald Trump:

    And with that, I must state that you, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kavanaugh followed by singling out some of the senators who backed his nomination before pledging to be fair and impartial on the bench.

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    I give special gratitude to Senators Rob Portman, Susan Collins, Joe Manchin, Jon Kyl, and Lindsey Graham. They're a credit to the country and the Senate.

    Every American can be assured that I will be an independent and impartial justice, devoted to equal justice under law.

    Although the Senate confirmation process tested me, as it has tested others, it did not change me. My approach to judging remains the same.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Here to help us process not just last night's remarks, but day one of Justice Kavanaugh in the courtroom today is "NewsHour" regular Marcia Coyle. She's chief Washington correspondent for "The National Law Journal."

    Hello, Marcia.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Hi, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So we had the comments of last night. Then today, the president was talking to reporters at the White House. And he again spoke about the Kavanaugh situation. He said the people who accused the judge, in the president's words, were evil.

    Is all — my question to you first is, all this angry language from the president, from some Republican senators, is that having an effect on the Supreme Court?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    I don't think so, Judy.

    I think, if there's any effect, it's the court's maybe stronger desire, strongest desire to try to ensure that the American public views it as a nonpartisan, non-political institution. And that, of course, is the challenge ahead for the entire court and Justice Kavanaugh in particular.

    As they take up cases later that may be highly divisive, are they going to be able to reach a certain consensus, so that they don't always divide 5-4 in a way that it's five Republican-appointed justice and four Democratic-appointed justices?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we also had — as we said, we heard about new Justice Kavanaugh's comments last night. As we heard, he singled out the senators, some of the senators who voted for him, who fought for his confirmation.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then last week, he talked about Democrats being motivated by revenge.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are his words — can they just be forgotten as he moves on to the court?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    No, I don't think they can.

    I think when he wrote an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal before he was confirmed, he did attempt to walk back some of the intense partisan language that he used at his last hearing before the Judiciary Committee. But that could almost be perceived by some people as an effort to lobby for votes for his confirmation.

    So it was, I think, almost incumbent on him after his confirmation, and since he was in the public ceremony last night, to say something to reassure those who did view the — that op-ed piece as not a genuine expression of regret that he will be a neutral, open-minded justice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's talk about today, his first day there.

    You were telling us there was a large crowd of people who wanted to get into the court.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What was it like?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Well, it was almost, Judy, like a normal day, except for the fact that there was a new face on the bench.

    And Justice Kavanaugh now sits at the extreme right end of the bench as you face it. His — right next to him is Justice Kagan, who actually was an Obama-appointed justice. It was a normal day.

    He asked — I counted about eight questions during two hours of argument in two cases. And his delivery was very professional, straightforward, much as he's been described when he sat on the appellate court.

    And right before the argument, he actually seemed happy to be there. He was chatting and laughing with Justice Kagan. His family, his wife and two daughters, were sitting in special seats that are for guests of the justices.

    Justice Kennedy, who had sworn him in a second time last night at the White House, also attended.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about, Marcia, the cases that are coming up, expected to come up this — this term for the court? Are they the kinds of cases where we maybe can look for some momentous, precedent-breaking decisions on the part of the court?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Well, right now, the docket is very low-key in terms of the cases that they have agreed to hear and decide. But that could actually change next week.

    In fact, it could even change this week. In the wings right now are cases involving whether our national job anti-discrimination law protects against sexual orientation discrimination. There are two cases involving Medicaid funding cut off by states for Planned Parenthood clinics.

    There's a case involving a World War I memorial cross on public land, which also — these are all flash point kinds of cases. And just today, it looks as though the case involving whether there's to be a citizenship question on the census is coming to the court very quickly.

    So, yes, there are going to be many challenges, I think, down the road. There's so much more in the pipeline to the court involving the Trump administration that really will test the court in terms of whether they can find consensus in — and not appear partisan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This new court just getting under way, with the ninth justice sitting there.

    Marcia…

  • Marcia Coyle:

    An interesting time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Marcia Coyle watching it all.

    Yes, for sure, interesting.

    Thank you.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    My pleasure, Judy.

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