AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Some Democrats are calling for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to be impeached. This comes after The New York Times published an essay that details an allegation of sexual misconduct that had not previously been made public. NPR has not independently confirmed the incident. A spokesperson for the Supreme Court told NPR that Kavanaugh has no comment on this allegation, and he has denied similar allegations.
Calls for impeaching a Supreme Court justice are unusual, so joining me now is NPR's senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Welcome to the studio.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Audie.
CORNISH: The basic question - what does it take to impeach a Supreme Court justice? When was the last time that even happened?
MONTANARO: It's the same process for impeaching a president. You need a majority in the House to impeach, but that doesn't remove someone. It has to go to the Senate for that, where two-thirds of the senators is needed to convict. The last Supreme Court justice, by the way, to be impeached was Samuel Chase way back in 1804. A year later, though, the Senate declined to convict him.
The federal judges that have been removed, and it's only been eight in the last 200 years, mostly have been convicted of things like making false statements, showing favoritism, being drunk on the bench or abusing their ability to hold people in contempt.
In this case, obviously, Democrats don't have control of the Senate, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said there's no chance that he's going to bring this forward, and he called it an unhinged personal attack.
CORNISH: And yet, California Senator Kamala Harris is among those who are calling for impeachment. She defended the idea to NPR's Noel King this morning.
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KAMALA HARRIS: There's not been an investigation with the level of attention that normally would occur around these kinds of allegations, and especially related to the subject at hand, which is the appropriateness of this individual serving on the highest court of our land for a lifetime appointment.
CORNISH: What's the benefit to a Democratic candidate to take this stance? She's not the only one.
MONTANARO: Yeah, sure. I mean, she addressed the fact that she's running for president in an - in her interview this morning. She said that she knew that that would be part of the criticism but thought that it was important to bring up anyway. But let's face it. She is running for president. And, you know, she needs to raise her profile. And any Democratic strategist would say, today, it worked. This is something that the base loves. They feel that Kavanaugh lied and that the FBI did a very cursory investigation. And when we polled on impeaching the president, for example, three-quarters of Democrats said that they were in favor of it.
But it's a different story with congressional leadership. I should point you to today. New York Democrat Jerry Nadler - he chairs the House Judiciary Committee and would shepherd any impeachment proceedings. He said he's far more focused on investigating the president and not going forward with a Kavanaugh impeachment. So any impeachment proceeding would have to start in the House, as we laid out earlier. So that avenue appears closed.
CORNISH: And is his reluctance a sign of the risks for Democrats?
MONTANARO: Yeah, sure. I mean, and that's why you don't see Nadler or other moderates in the Senate jumping on this. You don't even need polls, really, to tell you that. I mean, just look at the body language today. President Trump, Mitch McConnell - they're happy to take this issue on and blast Democrats and keep it front and center, whereas moderates like Doug Jones of Alabama, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota - they're saying that they need more evidence to begin any kind of impeachment proceeding against Kavanaugh, even though they say the process was a sham, in Klobuchar's words, and Jones said that if Kavanaugh lied that he could be impeached. You know, but judicial nominations - those are key to President Trump's base and to his political support. But clearly, this process would make moderates feel very uncomfortable.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro.
Thanks for explaining it.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
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