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Comments by former clerks may backfire on Trump’s high court pick Brett Kavanaugh

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When it became clear that President Donald Trump was seriously considering nominating Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the conservative judge’s former law clerks swung into action as among his most energetic public cheerleaders.

But in making the case for him in the media on issues including his stance toward abortion, healthcare and an expansive view of religious liberty, they may have opened up lines of attack on Kavanaugh by Democrats and liberal advocacy groups seeking to derail his nomination in the U.S. Senate.

Trump named Kavanaugh, 53, on July 9 to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Before he can assume the lifetime job on the nine-member court, the Senate must vote to confirm him. No date has yet been set for the customary Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.

Kavanaugh has served for 12 years on an influential federal appeals court in Washington. Several of the 48 lawyers who served as his clerks – a year-long job working for a judge, usually straight out of law school – appeared on cable TV shows, wrote opinion articles and spoke to reporters, often trying to shore up support among conservatives.

Their comments may have helped Kavanaugh’s cause before Trump nominated him by pushing back on complaints by some conservatives that the judge would not lean far enough to the right on social issues like abortion as well as on a conservative legal challenge to the Obamacare healthcare law.

But the chief threat to Trump’s nominee now is the Democratic campaign to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation in a Senate in which the president’s fellow Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority.

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Of the 48 clerks, 34 signed a letter calling for the Senate to confirm his appointment. Many secured prestigious Supreme Court clerkships after working for Kavanaugh and subsequently landed jobs at law firms, law schools and in government.

‘ROCK SOLID RECORD’
One clerk, Sarah Pitlyk, wrote a piece for the conservative National Review a week before the nomination was announced in which she touted Kavanaugh’s “clear, consistent and rock solid record on the issues that matter most to social conservatives.”

Pitlyk, who could not be reached for comment, said that “no court of appeals judge in the nation has a stronger more consistent record” than Kavanaugh on “protecting religious liberty and enforcing restrictions on abortion.”

Democrats have raised the possibility that the Supreme Court, with Trump’s appointment of a second justice in Kavanaugh, could overturn the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide. Conservatives had advocated a broad view of religious liberty and free speech, arguing for example that certain types of businesses can refuse to serve gay couples if they have a religious objection to same-sex marriage.

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Another clerk, Justin Walker, wrote an article in another conservative publication, The Federalist, defending Kavanaugh against criticism from the right about a 2011 opinion he wrote concerning Democratic former President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare law.

Walker talked up Kavanaugh’s conservative credentials on Fox News ahead of the nomination. “He is a warrior with a backbone of iron,” Walker told Fox, also calling Kavanaugh “a fighter for conservative legal principles” who would not “go wobbly” if appointed to the Supreme Court.

“I felt like his record was being misrepresented,” Walker said in an interview, adding that he was speaking only about Kavanaugh’s approach to the law, not his politics.

Christopher Kang, who worked in the Obama White House and helped with the nominations of liberal Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said he was surprised by some of the comments by Kavanaugh’s clerks.

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“I think that is really striking. We would not have used clerks to talk about a judge’s political philosophy,” said Kang, who now works for Demand Justice, a liberal group that opposes Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Supreme Court nominees routinely try to avoid being pinned down during confirmation hearings on how they would rule on given issues, especially controversial ones like abortion. But some of the comments made by clerks, Kang said, will “make it harder” for Kavanaugh to fend off questions about whether he will rule conservatively on social issues.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Will Dunham

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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Senator Elizabeth Warren leads Democrats in spirited first 2020 debate

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Ten Democrats clashed in the first debate of the 2020 presidential race Wednesday with Elizabeth Warren cementing her status as a top-tier candidate and several underdogs using the issue of immigration to clamor for the limelight.

The biggest American political debate since the 2016 presidential campaign is occurring over two nights in Miami, climaxing Thursday with former vice president Joe Biden squaring off against nine challengers, including number two candidate Bernie Sanders.

But Wednesday's first take was a spirited encounter between Democrats like ex-congressman Beto O'Rourke, Senator Cory Booker, former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on subjects as varied as health care, economic inequality, climate action, gun violence, Iran and immigration.

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Here are 4 winners and 9 losers from the first 2020 Democratic primary debate

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With ten candidates on stage Wednesday, the opening debate of the 2020 Democratic primary in Miami was a packed mess. And this was only the first course in a two-part event — 10 more candidates will debate on the following night.

A crowded field makes it difficult to stand out, and that means that even after a big night like a debate, the most likely result is that not much changes. But the debate was still significant, giving candidates the chance to exceed, meet, or fall below expectations for their performances.

Here's a list — necessarily subjective, of course — of the people who came out on the top when the dust was settled, and those who came out on the bottom.

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Here are 3 ways Julián Castro stood out in the first Democratic Debate

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There were many predictions going into the first Democratic debate on MSNBC, but no one predicted that Julián Castro would break out from the crowd.

Check out the top three ways Castro stood out from the crowd.

Immigration:

The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was the outright winner of the immigration section of the debate

It should "piss us all off," Castro said about the father and his little girl who were found face-down in the shores of the Rio Grande River this week. “It’s heartbreaking."

Castro is a second generation American who got into specifics on immigration policy, calling for an outright "Marshall Plan" style of action for Guatemala and Honduras. He joined with other Democrats calling for an end to President Donald Trump's family separation policy, but he then suggested ending the "metering" of legitimate asylum seekers.

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