Amid Kavanaugh Drama, Supreme Court Is Back In Session

Sep 30, 2018
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program again today with the political drama surrounding the Supreme Court. As you surely know by now, the FBI is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And with all of that, it might be easy to forget that the court itself is back in session this week. To help us get an idea of what this upcoming week is going to look like, we're joined by NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Nina, thanks so much for being here.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: My pleasure.

MARTIN: Well, to start, the White House has released a statement saying the FBI is free to conduct their investigation as they please. And this comes after we learned yesterday that there may be efforts within the White House to restrict the investigation. So where do we stand? What can we expect to learn this week?

TOTENBERG: Well, the president's press secretary is saying that this is up to the Senate to direct, and the president is not involved. All we really know is that the second person who had come forward to accuse Brett Kavanaugh of some kind of sexual misconduct - a woman who had gone to Yale with him, Deborah Ramirez - and said he exposed himself to her while drunk. The FBI is interviewing her and presumably any corroborators that she has. So one really can't be sure what exactly the FBI is doing, even how much resources they've put on it and who they've put on it. A lot sometimes depends on who is doing the asking. So, you know, there's a lot of unknown here.

MARTIN: Do we have any sense of the timing here - like, when, for example, the Senate hopes to move forward on the nomination, when the - this investigation is concluded?

TOTENBERG: When Jeff Flake - Senator Jeff Flake put this as his condition, it was framed as an investigation of no more than a week, so, I would think, no more than a week from this past Friday. And it wouldn't surprise me if there was a push to make it before that - to try to get Kavanaugh confirmed even late next week.

MARTIN: The Supreme Court is back in session tomorrow. This has been your beat for quite some time. So can you give us an idea of what it will mean for the court to be sitting with only eight members on the bench?

TOTENBERG: It's really interesting because there are quite a few very important cases pending in front of the court that it has not yet decided to hear. And, interestingly, the court has already put off any decision on whether they will hear those cases. Those are the kinds of cases that are big five to four cases very often - whether it's illegal or unconstitutional to discriminate against gay people in employment, for instance. That's on the potential docket, but it has not yet been granted by the court.

What has been granted are a bunch of cases that are - could be very important, or they could be very tiny procedural steps one way or the other. This week, the most interesting one - to me, anyway - involves whether it's cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution to execute somebody who's committed a murder, but he doesn't remember it anymore. And it's an interesting case. But there aren't any gangbusters cases that I can summarize for you in two sentences, and you'll say, oh, I really want to know what - how that's going to turn out (laughter). Those don't exist yet.

MARTIN: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Nina, thank you so much for joining us.

TOTENBERG: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.