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Brett Kavanaugh's angry denunciation of Senate Democrats at his confirmation hearing could reinforce views of the Supreme Court as a political institution at a time of stark partisan division and when the court already is sharply split between liberals and conservatives.

The Supreme Court nominee called the sexual misconduct allegations against him a "calculated and orchestrated political hit" by Democrats angry that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election. Kavanaugh went further than Clarence Thomas, who in 1991 attacked the confirmation process but didn't single out a person or political party, when he confronted allegations that he sexually harassed Anita Hill.

The comments injected a new level of bitter partisanship in an already pitched battle over the future of the Supreme Court and replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, frequently the decisive and swing vote on the most important issues of the day. Kavanaugh is more conservative than Kennedy and his ascendance to the high court would entrench conservative control of the bench for years.

"No matter what happens ... I think the court is the ultimate loser here. I think Judge Kavanaugh could have made the exact same points without making reference to the Clintons or Democrats, without going down that road," said Josh Blackman, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. "It's an optics thing. I don't think he'll vote any differently because of what happened in the past 10 days, but what will change is how people perceive it."

In his pointed remarks, Kavanaugh said he was a victim of character assassination orchestrated by Democrats. "This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups," he said.


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