Trump’s Supreme Court pick is a lesson in the three branches of government

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

 

 

 

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Video summary:
  1. President Donald Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to become the next Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
  2. There are nine judges on the Supreme Court, the highest court and the last decider on how to interpret laws in the United States.
  3. A simple majority is needed in the 100-member Senate in order to get a Supreme Court justice confirmed.
  4. Kavanaugh serves as a federal appeals judge on the D.C. circuit and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. He worked with independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the period leading up to former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. He also served in President George W. Bush’s administration.
  5. While most Republican lawmakers and conservatives praised the nomination, Democratic legislators as well as liberals and some moderates criticized the decision, fearing that Kavanaugh could move the Court far to the right.
    • “If confirmed by the Senate, I will keep an open mind in every case,” Kavanaugh stated on Monday. “I believe that an independent judiciary is the crown jewel of our constitutional republic.”
  6. On Tuesday, Kavanaugh will begin meeting with senators before his public hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  7. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., needs a simple majority to confirm Kavanaugh and cannot afford to lose a single Republican vote.
    • McConnell would not grant a hearing to Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee after Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016. Scalia’s seat remained open for almost a year, breaking with long-standing tradition in U.S. history.
  8. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to nominate “pro-life justices.”
    • Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have said they could not support a nominee who would rule in favor of overturning the case that established a woman’s right to an abortion, Roe v. Wade. Both senators voted for Trump’s previous nominee, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Extended lesson:

If time permits, watch the interview between NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in which the senator shares his reaction to Kavanaugh’s nomination.

  1. Sen. Booker expressed particular concern around comments that Kavanaugh made in a 2009 law-review article in which he wrote, “I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office.”
    • Kavanaugh went on to say that “the indictment and trial of a sitting President, moreover, would cripple the federal government, rendering it unable to function with credibility in either the international or domestic arenas. Such an outcome would ill serve the public interest, especially in times of financial or national security crisis.”
  2. According to Booker, “[Trump] literally selected the one person who has a pretty good written record of saying, ‘Hey, if you are a president under investigation, I don’t think you should be allowed to be under a criminal investigation,’ — the one guy that could in many ways indemnify him from the many challenges that Donald Trump could see go before the Supreme Court,” regarding Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation.
Discussion questions:
  1. Essential question: What is the future of the Supreme Court and how will it affect life in America?
  2. Essential question: What might the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh show us about the three branches of government and the America system of checks and balances?
  3. What factors does the president take into account when choosing a Supreme Court nominee? What factors does the Senate take into account when confirming a nominee?
  4. Why are Kavanaugh’s written statements about not indicting a sitting president seen as controversial?
  5. Why do you think Kavanaugh chose to discuss several aspects of his personal life, including his family and Catholic faith?
  6. Should Kavanaugh’s work in the Bush administration role affect his confirmation? Should Kavanaugh recuse himself from cases related to Mueller’s investigation, if asked to do so in the confirmation hearing? Explain your answers.
  7. Referring to Trump, why do you think that Kavanaugh said, “No president has ever consulted more widely or talked to more people from more backgrounds to seek input for a Supreme Court nomination”? Is this a matter of opinion or is it historically accurate? How could you find out?
  8. Do you think that Kavanaugh should be a nominee to the Supreme Court? Why or why not?
  9. Media literacy question: Why did Trump choose to make his announcement in prime time? How did previous presidents make their announcements?
To learn more, read the following articles:

Trump nominates Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court

Democratic lawmakers, liberal groups rally against Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee

The politics behind Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and the Senate battle ahead

McConnell calls Kavanaugh a ‘superb’ court pick

Fun activity for students:

Before you reveal the correct answer in this Supreme Court activity, give your students different options from which to choose. The student who gets the most numbers right, gets to be class-judge-for-the-day (well, maybe just for the start of class).

More than 2 centuries of Supreme Court justices, in 18 numbers


Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories@NewsHourExtra

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