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New US Supreme Court justice Kavanaugh a conservative stalwart

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By Sebastien Blanc and Chris Lefkow – Agence France-Presse

A graduate of the best schools, a regular churchgoer, coach of his daughters’ basketball teams, a former White House lawyer and an appeals court judge.

Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed to the US Supreme Court on Saturday by a 50-48 vote in the Senate, brings impressive credentials to the nation’s high court.

But his Senate confirmation hearing raised doubts about Kavanaugh’s choirboy image and he will join the eight other justices with a cloud hanging over his head.

At a hearing marked by bitter partisan acrimony, Kavanaugh was forced to defend himself against an allegation of sexual assault dating back to when he was a teenager.

Since then, a different portrait of Kavanaugh emerged — that of someone who often drank to excess during his high school and college years and behaved obnoxiously.

During the past two weeks, dozens of people who have known him came forward to support one version of Kavanaugh or the other.

In the end, 49 Republicans and one Democrat voted to endorse a nominee that President Donald Trump praised as a “fine man and great intellect.”

At just 53 years old, Kavanaugh could conceivably serve on the court — currently evenly divided between liberals and conservatives — for decades, tilting it to the right.

Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation was proceeding smoothly until multiple sexual assault allegations surfaced against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement.

– ‘I like beer’ –
Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old psychology professor, said Kavanaugh attacked her at a party 36 years ago in a suburban Maryland home when he was 17 and she was 15.

She said he pinned her down, held his hand over her mouth and attempted to remove her clothes before she managed to escape.

Another woman, Deborah Ramirez, alleged that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drinking game when they attended Yale University.

At the request of Democrats and a Republican senator the FBI was called in to look into the allegations — but was unable to corroborate their stories.

Democrats slammed that investigation as “incomplete.”

Kavanaugh, for his part, in a fiery appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, vehemently denied the charges saying they were “last-minute smears, pure and simple.”

“I liked beer, I still like beer,” he said. “But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I never sexually assaulted anyone.”

Born on February 12, 1965, Kavanaugh grew up in a wealthy suburb of Washington DC and attended the elite Georgetown Prep boys’ school.

He graduated with a law degree from Yale and clerked for Anthony Kennedy, the justice long considered a critical swing vote on the Supreme Court.

In the 1990s, Kavanaugh led an investigation into the suicide of Bill Clinton aide Vince Foster, who was linked to the Whitewater controversy that began as a probe into the presidential couple’s real estate investments.

– ‘Pro-law judge’ –
Kavanaugh later contributed to prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s report into Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which outlined grounds for impeachment.

He went on to join Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush’s legal team working on the 2000 Florida recount, which resulted in Bush winning the White House.

After Bush became president, he recruited Kavanaugh to become his legal counsel before naming him in 2003 to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, seen as the second most important court after the Supreme Court.

But Kavanaugh’s nomination languished for three years as Democrats fumed over his participation in Bush’s recount team. He was eventually confirmed in 2006.

After Justice Kennedy announced his retirement this year, Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace his one-time mentor on the Supreme Court.

His appointment raised concerns that Kavanaugh, a devout Catholic and conservative jurist, could swing the court to the right on sensitive issues such as abortion.

Kavanaugh, in an opinion piece published this week in The Wall Street Journal, said he views his role as a judge as that of “an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no political party, litigant or policy.”

“I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge,” he said, in a highly unusual plea to defend his impartiality.

“I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge.”

Kavanaugh was married in 2004 to Ashley Estes, who he met at the White House while she was working as President Bush’s personal secretary. They have two daughters.