Glance at any US newspaper or website right now and chances are one name will feature at the very top – Brett Kavanaugh.
Just a few weeks ago the 53-year-old’s future looked fairly clear – Donald Trump had nominated him to the US Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy and his confirmation looked like a mere matter of procedure.
Then a psychology professor at Palo Alto University dropped a bombshell allegation.
What’s The Allegation?
Christine Blasey Ford said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982 when both were high school students in Maryland.
She said she was 15 when she attended a party where she encountered Kavanaugh, who was 17 at the time. He and his friend shut her in a room and turned up the music to hide her protests as he assaulted her and covered her mouth to stifle her screams.
Kavanaugh called Ford’s allegation “completely false.”
How Has This Affected The Nomination?
It’s utterly dominated proceedings and will likely make or break it – it’s already delayed a verdict in the confirmation.
Ford’s lawyer, Debra Katz, told a Senate panel on Thursday she would not testify in front of them on Monday as Republicans want, but would be willing to appear sometime next week if certain terms were met.
Katz added: “As you are aware, she has been receiving death threats, which have been reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and she and her family have been forced out of their home.
“She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety.”
.@HoltonArms alumna Alexis Goldstein said it best. "Don't mess with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Don't mess with the alumnae of the Holton-Arms School. But most importantly, don't mess with survivors." pic.twitter.com/vfLJWcYNvs— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) September 20, 2018
Why Is The Supreme Court Appointment A Big Deal?
The Supreme Court essentially gets the final say on the most important and often most controversial and divisive issues in the USA.
There are nine judges and each serves for life unless they resign, retire or are impeached.
New judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, meaning replacements are usually liberal or conservative depending on who is in power when they step down.
The life tenure of judges means Presidents can shape US policy for decades after their terms end. Kennedy was nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1987.
“We have to pick a great one. We have to pick one that’s going to be there for 40 years, 45 years,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Fargo, North Dakota, earlier this year.
Hasn’t Trump Already Done This?
One of Trump’s first major acts as President was to appoint the conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
The Court’s recent decision to uphold Trump’s controversial travel ban - nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen were barred entering the US - by a vote of 5-4 was seen as a vindication of his choice.
What’s The Current Make-Up Of The Court?
The court has four justices picked by Democratic Presidents and four picked by Republicans.
Gorsuch’s appointment meant the court consisted of five conservatives and four liberals. Kennedy often swung in his decisions and sided with the liberals on a number of votes, although not in recent months.
Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court during its term that started in October and ended on Wednesday repeatedly ruled for Trump on 5-4 votes, with its four liberals dissenting.
The other two older justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, and Stephen Breyer, 79, are Democratic appointees who would not appear to be going anywhere during a Trump administration if they can help it.
What Has Trump Said?
Trump is backing his man while simultaneously attacking Ford’s credibility.
He said on Friday that Kavanaugh was “under assault” by radical leftist politicians, appearing to grow impatient with the delay of his appointee’s confirmation proceedings.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a fine man, with an impeccable reputation, who is under assault by radical left wing politicians who don’t want to know the answers, they just want to destroy and delay. Facts don’t matter. I go through this with them every single day in D.C.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
What’s The Even Bigger Picture?
If Ford agrees to testify, it would set the stage for a potentially explosive hearing just weeks before congressional mid-term elections that will decide the balance of power in Congress.
Even before Ford’s allegation, Democrats were experiencing a surge in support that is predicted to allow them to take over both the Senate and the House, meaning Trump will struggle to push through legislation.
Ford’s testimony would likely be a rallying point for democratic voters, persuading them to go out and vote in the mid-terms, which usually have a much lower turnout overall than presidential elections.