MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Now to the Supreme Court, where this morning protesters had a message for the newest justice.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS: (Chanting) Hey, hey, ho, ho, Kavanaugh has got to go. Hey, hey, ho, ho, Kavanaugh has got to go.
KELLY: Only days after the Senate voted narrowly to confirm him, Brett Kavanaugh made his first appearance on the high court bench. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson was watching the oral arguments, and she's here now to tell us about them. Hey, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So we heard the protesters outside the court. What was it like inside today?
JOHNSON: Well, after all the rancor of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings in the Senate, things were quiet inside the court - no disruptions, no arrests. Kavanaugh's wife, Ashley, was there. His two daughters skipped school to attend. Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy was there, too. Of course Kavanaugh replaced him on the bench. And at the start of the day, Chief Justice John Roberts said, it gives me great pleasure to welcome Justice Kavanaugh to the court. And Roberts wished him a long and happy career.
KELLY: He has been busy already. He has hired four clerks, all of them women, I will note. We're told he spent the weekend reading up on cases. Did he actually speak much from the bench today?
JOHNSON: He was really active for his first day on the job. I counted more than 10 questions from him to both sides, mostly technical questions about the state of the law. The court today heard two cases about what kinds of crimes should trigger the Armed Career Criminal Act. Congress passed that law to take dangerous people off the street. It sends them away for mandatory prison terms if they have prior violent crimes in their past. The question for the court today was whether certain kinds of robberies or burglaries counted or not.
KELLY: Sounds like neither of those cases today are ones with big political or ideological divides. But when are cases going to come before them that would test this new 5-4 makeup of the court?
JOHNSON: Yeah, the docket is not super-polarized so far, but there's a good chance the high court will consider whether to accept some cases that could wind up being blockbusters, cases that, say, have to do with President Obama's DACA immigration plan, cases that might pit religious liberty against the rights of LGBT people or cases about the power and reach of the executive branch.
At least one of the justices today appeared to be playing a long game. That's Elena Kagan. She was appointed by President Obama, but she and Brett Kavanaugh go back a way. She hired him to teach at Harvard Law School when she was a dean there. They behaved very warmly together today, laughed a lot. And he shook her hand as he left the bench. The issue is whether she is trying a charm offensive on this new justice to get him to be a more moderate figure on this bench over time.
KELLY: But what about the fear that Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation battle was so partisan, was so rancorous, I think is the word you used, that there would be this cloud of partisanship hanging over him and hanging over the court? Did you see any sign of that?
JOHNSON: Not in the courtroom today. Brett Kavanaugh of course introduced some of this himself in the Senate when he mentioned an organized campaign to go after him, even citing the Clintons. He spoke Monday night at a ceremony at the White House, saying he wanted to be impartial and fair and part of a team of nine justices on the court. But Kavanaugh also went out of his way at that event at the White House to thank Senators who made the difference in his confirmation, people like Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
And President Trump did not help matters when he said Kavanaugh had been proven innocent of assault allegations. That actually did not happen. The president also apologized to Kavanaugh Monday for what he called the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure in this campaign to get on the bench. There was no hint of any of that in the Supreme Court today.
KELLY: A very different story inside the Supreme Court it sounds like. Thanks very much, Carrie.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
KELLY: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson.
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