WASHINGTON – Brett Kavanaugh will be on the Supreme Court in time to hear next week’s cases on immigration, product liability and the Armed Career Criminal Act.
Kavanaugh will be sworn in later Saturday by Chief Justice John Roberts and former associate justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom he clerked a quarter century ago. A White House ceremony could be held Monday, but either way, the 53-year-old judge will take a seat on the far right side of the bench Tuesday, next to Associate Justice Elena Kagan, who hired him to teach at Harvard Law School when she was dean.
Although he will give the court its first reliable conservative majority in decades, the docket facing the justices in the term that began Monday isn’t filled with the types of major cases that produce 5-4 rulings.
That said, the first week’s cases that Kavanaugh missed featured some in which the justices did appear closely divided. The first case involved an endangered frog that liberal justices seemed intent on protecting, while their conservative colleagues sided with a corporation whose land might lose value as a result.
Before the week was out, a majority of the eight justices appeared sympathetic to a death row prisoner in Alabama whose severe dementia renders him incapable of remembering his crime. But they were again split on a Pennsylvania town’s right to require public access to a recently discovered cemetery on private land.
Kavanaugh will not participate in deliberations on those cases, so one or more of them could emerge with a 4-4 tie. That result merely leaves a lower court’s verdict intact, unless the court decides to rehear the case with Kavanaugh’s participation.
Kavanaugh’s first cases
Here’s a look at the first cases Kavanaugh will hear once he’s sworn in:
• Tuesday will feature a 1984 federal law that has been before the Supreme Court often: the Armed Career Criminal Act, which sets a 15-year minimum sentence for crimes involving firearms if the offender has three prior serious or violent felony convictions. Questions arise continually regarding what crimes are “serious” or “violent.”
• On Wednesday, the justices will consider another question they’ve heard before: which undocumented immigrants can be detained during deportation proceedings? The case involves an immigrant with a prior criminal record, but who no longer is in custody.
• Also Wednesday, the court will hear a case filed by Navy sailors seeking to recover damages for injuries caused by asbestos exposure. The companies being sued manufactured the equipment, but the asbestos was added later by companies that are now bankrupt.
By Richard Wolf for USA TODAY
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