President Donald Trump has announced he will next week nominate a woman to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, escalating a political row over her successor.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18 at the age of 87, just weeks before the presidential election.
Joe Biden insists the decision on her replacement should wait until after the vote.
The ideological balance of the nine-member court is crucial to its rulings on the most important issues in US law.
However, President Trump has vowed to swear in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s successor “without delay”, a move that has infuriated Democrats, who fear Republicans will vote to lock in a decades-long conservative majority on the country’s highest court.
“I will be putting forth a nominee next week. It will be a woman,” President Trump said at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina on September 19.
“I think it should be a woman because I actually like women much more than men.”
Some supporters chanted “Fill that seat!” as President Trump spoke, urging him to take the rare opportunity to nominate a third justice during one presidential term to a lifetime appointment on the court.
Earlier, President Trump praised two female judges who serve on federal courts of appeals as possible choices. Both judges – Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa – are conservatives who would tip the balance of the Supreme Court in favor of Republicans.
Democrats have vigorously opposed any nomination before November’s election, arguing that Senate Republicans blocked Democratic President Barack Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court in 2016.
At the time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell justified the move on grounds that it was an election year.
On September 18, Senator McConnell said he intended to act on any nomination President Trump made and bring it to a vote in the Senate before Election Day.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, affectionately known as “The Notorious RBG”, a liberal icon and feminist standard-bearer, died of metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington DC, surrounded by her family. She was only the second-ever woman to sit on the Supreme Court.
The appointment of judges in is a political question which means the president gets to choose who is put forward. The Senate then votes to confirm – or reject – the choice.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who served for 27 years, was one of only four liberals on the nine-seat bench. Her death means that, should the Republicans get the vote through, the balance of power would shift decisively towards the conservatives.
President Trump, who has already chosen two Supreme Court justices during his presidency, is well aware that getting his nominee in would give conservatives control over key decisions for decades to come. Justices can serve for life, unless they decide to retire.
He tweeted on September 19: “We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”
Earlier, Senator McConnell said in a statement – which included a tribute to Ginsburg – that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate”.
The senator had argued in 2016 that “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice” which meant “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president”.
Now he says the Senate was within its rights to act because it was Republican-controlled, and Donald Trump is a Republican president.
In a written testimony provided ahead of September 27 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Christine Blasey Ford says: “It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell the truth.”
Christine Blasey Ford alleges Brett Kavanaugh tried to drunkenly remove her clothing, pinned her to a bed and groped her at a party when she was 15 and he was 17.
“Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life. For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details,” she wrote in her prepared statement.
“I tried to convince myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should be able to move on and just pretend that it had never happened.”
Christine Blasey says Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge locked her in a bedroom during a small gathering at a house in Washington DC suburbs in the summer of 1982.
“Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack,” she said.
Mark Judge has disputed the allegations, saying he does not recall the incident.
“I believed [Brett Kavanaugh] was going to rape me,” Christine Blasey said. The fact that he covered her mouth she says “terrified” her the most, and has had “the most lasting impact”.
“It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.”
When Mark Judge jumped on the bed, she says “we toppled over and Brett was no longer on top of me.” She was then able to run from the room.
Brett Kavanaugh is also facing other accusations of assault from three women.
However, he denies Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation “immediately, unequivocally, and categorically”.
The judge also released prepared written testimony ahead of the hearing.
Brett Kavanaugh says: “Over the past few days, other false and uncorroborated accusations have been aired. There has been a frenzy to come up with something – anything, no matter how far-fetched or odious – that will block a vote on my nomination. These are last-minute smears, pure and simple.”
The written testimony suggests Brett Kavanaugh will not try to portray himself as a saint.
He will say: “I was not perfect in those days, just as I am not perfect today. I drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many.”
He will also say that what he has been accused of is “far more serious than juvenile misbehavior”.
The hearing is scheduled to get under way at 10:00 local time and could last five hours.
There will be opening statements from the leading Republican and Democrat members.
Christine Blasey Ford will deliver her opening statement first.
The 21 senators on the committee will then have five minutes each to pose questions, but while the 10 Democrats are expected to ask questions themselves, it is believed a special counsel will act on behalf of the Republicans.
Christine Blasey Ford will then leave the room and Brett Kavanaugh will enter. She had earlier asked not to be in the same room as the judge.
Brett Kavanaugh will deliver his statement and the same round of questioning will follow.
President Donald Trump has portrayed the events in political terms, accusing the Democrats of trying to block the nomination.
Texas can use its controversial new voter ID law for the November election, the Supreme Court ruled on October 18.
A majority of the justices rejected an emergency request from the Justice Department and civil rights groups to prohibit the state from requiring voters to produce certain forms of photo identification in order to cast ballots. Three justices dissented.
Texas can use its controversial new voter ID law for the November election
Texas ID law was struck down by a federal judge last week, but a federal appeals court had put that ruling on hold. The judge found that roughly 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification. Early voting in Texas begins Monday, October 20.
The Supreme Court’s order was unsigned, as it typically is in these situations. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, saying they would have left the district court decision in place.
The law sets out seven forms of approved ID, a list that includes concealed handgun licenses but not college student IDs, which are accepted in other states with similar measures.
The US Supreme Court has struck down overall donor limits for political campaigns.
The court ruled 5-4 that individuals could give to candidates, parties and political groups without observing an overall cap of $123,200.
The ruling leaves in place limits on how much donors can give to a single candidate – currently $2,600.
The decision is the latest in a series which have loosened restrictions on US campaign finance.
Contribution limits were established by Congress in the 1970s in an attempt to restore the public’s faith in government after President Richard Nixon’s resignation in the Watergate scandal.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in Wednesday’s majority opinion that overall limits “intrude without justification” on first amendment rights, the clause of the US constitution that enshrines freedom of speech.
The US Supreme Court has struck down overall donor limits for political campaigns
Critics say the ruling will expand even further the influence of big money in politics.
Four years ago, the Supreme Court lifted limits on political spending by nominally independent groups known as political action committees, in a case known as Citizens United.
Last year the high court removed restrictions on states with a history of race-biased voting laws, prompting activists to charge that the court was making it harder to vote in but easier to buy elections.
Wednesday’s vote split the court along its liberal and conservative wings, with Justice Stephen Breyer taking the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench.
He wrote: “Taken together with [Citizens United], today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
The case was brought by Shaun McCutcheon, a Republican and owner of the Coalmont Electrical Development Corporation in Alabama.
Before the US elections two years ago, Shaun McCutcheon made individual donations to 15 congressional candidates.
But he was unable to donate to another dozen candidates because that would have broken the overall limit.
“It’s a very important case about your right to spend your money how you choose,” Shaun McCutcheon has said.
He told the Associated Press news agency that he planned to spend several hundred thousand dollars ahead of November’s midterm elections.
During arguments, US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., argued in favor of the limit, telling the court if the limit were overturned, donors “could potentially funnel massive amounts of money to a favored candidate”.
Donald Verrilli argued without the overall limit, one donor giving the maximum allowed to every congressional candidate, political party and political action committee would exceed $3 million in contributions in a single election cycle.
But the court disagreed with the solicitor general’s warning, arguing the court could not interfere with such “free speech” beyond the direct limit on individual candidate donations.
The ruling may see an increase in political action groups, who while barred from directly co-ordinating with candidates’ campaigns, they may spend large amounts of money promoting a candidate or running negative adverts again the candidate’s opponents.
The groups are largely funded by business interests, wealthy individuals and, to a lesser extent, unions.
However, only a small portion of all current donors to political campaigns would be affected by the removal of the aggregate limit.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 646 people in the 2012 election cycle hit the maximum overall donation limit.
Those people gave more than $93 million directly to candidates and committees.
The US Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that human genes may not be patented, but artificially copied DNA can be claimed as intellectual property.
The court quashed patents held by Utah-based company Myriad on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.
The opinion said DNA came from nature and was not eligible for patenting.
The US biotechnology industry had warned any blanket ban on such patents would jeopardize huge investment in gene research and therapies.
“We hold that a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in Thursday’s opinion.
But his ruling said that synthetic molecules known as complementary DNA can be patented “because it is not naturally occurring”.
Myriad Genetics, the company at the heart of the lawsuit, saw its shares rise after Thursday’s compromise decision.
The legal battle was prompted by a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2009 that centered on whether companies should be able to patent genes.
Currently, researchers and private companies work to isolate genes in order to use them in tests for gene-related illnesses, and in emerging gene therapies.
The US Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that human genes may not be patented
The genes at the centre of the lawsuit are linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad Genetics developed a pioneering test to look for mutations in those genes that might increase the risk of developing cancer.
Myriad Genetics, based in Salt Lake City, argued that the genes in question had been “isolated” by the company, making them products of human ingenuity and therefore patentable.
But the ACLU argued that genes are products of nature, and therefore cannot be patented under US laws.
In 2010 a New York federal court ruled in favor of the ACLU.
But an appeals court on two separate occasions sided with Myriad. It said DNA isolated from the human body had a “markedly different chemical structure” from other human genetic material.
Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling largely sided with the ACLU.
“Genes and the information they encode are not patent eligible… simply because they have been isolated from the surrounding genetic material,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote “the portion of the DNA isolated from its natural state sought to be patented is identical to that portion of the DNA in its natural state”.
Sandra Park, a lawyer for the ACLU, welcomed the decision.
“Because of this ruling, patients will have greater access to genetic testing and scientists can engage in research on these genes without fear of being sued,” she said.
Universities and medical research firms have been able to claim intellectual property over human genes for nearly three decades.
According to researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in the US, patents now cover some 40% of the human genome.
Barack Obama’s wide-ranging healthcare reform bill, which is seen as a key achievement of his presidency, is facing its moment of judgement in the US Supreme Court.
The law, dubbed ObamaCare, passed in 2010, requires all Americans to obtain health insurance or face a penalty fine.
But conservative opponents of the president say that “mandate” is illegal under the terms of the US constitution.
The justices are expected to rule on Thursday, and could cut the mandate or strike down the whole law.
The debate over healthcare is a fiercely polarizing issue in the US, and a verdict either way is expected to have a major impact on the race for the White House.
Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, are just five months away from the presidential election.
The president maintains a slender lead in some polls, but is facing a stiff challenge from Mitt Romney and conservative opponents, amid a rocky economic outlook.
ObamaCare, passed in 2010, requires all Americans to obtain health insurance or face a penalty fine
Mitt Romney told a rally near Washington DC on Wednesday that if the Supreme Court did not quash the law he would “repeal and replace” the bill if he won the White House.
The bitter debate over the legislation has touched such partisan issues as state and individual rights, federal deficits, end-of-life care, and abortion and contraception funding.
The nine-member Supreme Court has several options.
It could decide that it is too early to rule on the case, as many of the law’s provisions – including the mandate to buy health insurance – do not come into force until 2014.
It could also dismiss the challenge to the mandate on a technicality, ruling that the penalty constitutes a tax lawfully imposed by Congress. Few observers expect the court to choose this option.
The meat of the case concerns the challenge to the individual mandate, which the justices could decide oversteps Congress’ right to regulate interstate commerce.
Analysts say that questioning from several conservative justices during oral arguments at the court in March revealed a deep level skepticism on the bench.
The court could decide to strike down the mandate and send the bill back to Congress to find a way to make the rest of it work. It could also overturn the entire law, ruling that the need to buy health insurance is integral to the legislation.
The Supreme Court is composed of nine justices, five seen as conservatives and four as liberals. It has delivered several divisive wafer-thin majority rulings in recent years, prompting criticism from liberals.
A 5-4 ruling in 2010 known as Citizens United changed campaign finance laws in the US to allow unrestricted fund-raising by independent groups not directly affiliated with candidates.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found public approval of the court at its lowest level since records began in 1987.
The healthcare law – officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but commonly dubbed ObamaCare by opponents – was passed in 2009 without a single Republican vote in Congress, and signed into law by President Obama in June 2010.
Polls suggest many Americans would be pleased to see the law overturned.
However, individual elements of the bill are popular, and some people are opposed because they do not think it goes far enough.
The bill has already enabled millions of Americans aged under 26 to obtain health insurance by staying on their parents’ coverage for longer than previously allowed.
Patients with pre-existing medical conditions have also been able to obtain health insurance since the passage of the law.
Part of a tough Arizona immigration law giving police powers to check the immigration status of people stopped and arrested has been upheld by the US Supreme Court.
However, three of four challenges brought by the Obama administration were upheld by the court.
Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer said the “heart” of the law had been upheld.
President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney are each battling for Hispanic votes ahead of November’s presidential election.
Mitt Romney reacted quickly to the court’s ruling, criticizing Barack Obama for not passing a national immigration-reform law.
In a statement, he said each US state has “the duty – and the right – to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law”.
In other developments at the court on Monday:
• A ruling on President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reform law was scheduled for Thursday
• The justices rejected mandatory sentencing of juveniles convicted of murder to life in prison without parole
• The court struck down a Montana campaign finance law that would limit corporate contributions to political campaigns
Part of a tough Arizona immigration law giving police powers to check the immigration status of people stopped and arrested has been upheld by the US Supreme Court
The Supreme Court judgement came after the US government argued that the law infringed on federal rights to oversee immigration policy.
Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have all adopted variations of the Arizona law.
The headline provision, known as Section 2(B), that requires police to make a “reasonable attempt… to determine the immigration status” of anyone who is stopped for another violation, was upheld by the Supreme Court.
The court ruled it was too early to tell whether the clause caused a conflict with federal laws, but added that the provision could be open to legal challenge again at a later date.
The Supreme Court also struck down three other parts of the Arizona immigration law.
One clause would have required immigrants to carry proof of their status with them, and another would have made it a crime for undocumented workers to apply for a job.
The court also struck down a provision that would have allowed police to stop people purely on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion for the court, said the justices were unanimous in their decision to allow the “check your papers” provision to come into effect. The court was divided on other issues.
One justice, Antonin Scalia, dissented from the case, saying he would uphold all parts of the Arizona law, citing the sovereignty of individual states as defined in the US constitution.
Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, called the court’s ruling a victory, saying the “heart” of the bill could now come into effect.
In a statement, Jan Brewer said the ruling was a victory for “all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.
But she warned against misuse of the provision, adding: “Law enforcement will be held accountable should this statute be misused in a fashion that violates an individual’s civil rights.”
Other reaction to the law was nuanced, and at least partly open to interpretation: some claimed victory for backers of the law, while others saw the ruling as a partial victory for the administration.
Immigration has become a key issue as the US edges closer to this year’s presidential election.
President Barack Obama recently outlined a plan to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the US as children the option of legal status and work permits.
His Republican rival Mitt Romney has opposed Barack Obama’s plan, but has not said how he would address the issue of immigration.
Both men are courting Hispanic votes ahead of their showdown in November.
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