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tv   Frontline  PBS  May 21, 2019 10:00pm-11:00pm PDT

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>> i will nominate judge brett >> narrator: a supre court face-off 30 years in the making... >> it is a system that has become toxic... >> when bork got taken down they promised never to forget. >> it was raw polics. and it was war. >> narrator: and behind the scenes one powerful republicans. >> mitch mcconnell is a tactical genius. >> ...not giving a lifetime appointment, to this president, on the way out the door... >> unprecedented. >> democrats are outraged... >> narrator: tonight on frontline... >> we're living in the era of the mcconnell court. >> narrator: "supreme revenge." >> frontline is made possie by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support is provided by th
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john d. and cather macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information at the ford foundation: working with visionaries on the efrontlines of social cha worldwide. at adal support is provided by the abrams foundation, committed to excellence in journalism. the park fouation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.e hn and helen glessner family trust. supporting trustworthy journalism that informs an inspires. and by the frontline journalism fund,rt with major suprom jon and jo ann hagler. and additional support from the charina endowmt fund. ♪ >>et is my honor and privil to announce that i will nominate judge brett kavaugh to the united states supreme court.
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>> supreme court showdown as democrats are promising to fight president trump... >> the battle is on-- supreme court nominee brett kavanaugh t madehe rounds... >> now is the time to fight.ts >> democra have already come >> you don't belong inn to... building as a justice. >> pay attention to this, gu. pay attention. >> if he's confirmed, he'll be on the court for 25 to 30 years. that's six presidential terms. ♪ b >> people h sides of the aisle ry quickly took positions on judge kavanaugh before they knew anything about him. (cameras clicking)>> tell you, it was big drama. that room, there were more cameras, you could barely he for the clicking whenever the judge would turn his head or, or make a motion that they wanted to capture. (cameras clicking) >> good morning. i weome everyone to this
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confirmation hearing on the nomination of judge... >> mr. chairman. >> ...brett kavanaugh... >> mr. >> s as associate >> mr. chairman... >> grassley is, like, 13 words into his remarks when they start badgering him.>> ou are out... you are out of order, i'll proceed. >> we cannot possibly moveir forward, mr. cn, with this hearing... >> i extend a very warm welcome...n >> we have not bven an... >> the democrats had agreed that weekend that they should do this. >> mr. chairman, i appeal to the chair to recognize myself or one of my colleagues...) (gavel bangi >> you're out of order. >> mr. chairman, i, i appeal to be recognized on yourense of decency and integrity... >> mr. chairman, if, if we cannot be recognized, i move to adjourn.op >> the american ... >> mr. chairman, i move to adjourn. (protesters shouting) >> ... travesty of justice. this is a travesty of justice. we will not go back. cancel brett kavanaugh, adjourn the hearing.ay >> we're here too be a hero! be a hero. (inaudible)
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that's no way to conduct ang) hearing. i think that the process was not becoming of the united states senate. >> but this is the first confirmation hearing for a supreme court justice i've seeno basically ing to mob rule. >> this is shaping up to be the hypocrisy hearing, and that's hard to do in the senate. (protesters shouting) >> narrator: it was only thet firsy of the kavanaugh hearings. >> it was the epitome of a totally broken system. if kennedy had been alive, or heflin, or specter had been watching the kavanaugh hearings, we would have ked. >> a circus of protesters welcomed into the hearing room by the democratic party... >> narrator: it looked like a product of the deep divisions in washington today. >> destroying civility and sowing chaos... >> narrator: but it had beenhe
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decades inaking. >> senators who disrupt supreme court hearings? they might as well be in theot audience with the presters. >> narrator: and behind the scenes, one powerful republican senator, majority leader mitch mcconnell. >> mcconnell knows the game an. one of the reasons he's as good at his job as it is is because he can play his own hand atca s and he can also play his opponent's hand at cards. he knows exactly what they're trying to . >> narrator: out-maneuveri mocrats, confirming conservative judges were mcconnell's specialties. brett kavanaugh would be his crowning achievement. (camera clicks) >> it's moving the court to a really very, very conservative court. the time he was first am from senate, and maybe his dream when he went into politics. >> this is going to be a rough battle on capitol hill... >> narrator: mitch mcconnell's determination to transform theco supremt had been his life's work. senators, u.s. supremeveral nominee clarence thomas managed to...
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>> potentially ensuring a conservative majority for decades... >>arrator: through bruisin confirmation battles... >> ...democrats to keep an open mind about kavanaugh... >> narrator: a struggle overlo id and power... >> ...white house has been packaging clarence thomas like a political candidate... >> ...expected to be one of the most contentious confirmation hearings in >> narrator:ed by a devastating defeat... >> ...rejecting the nomination of judge bork... >> ...judgbork, the long public ordeal... >> narrator: and a promise to retaliate. >> the administration is marshaling all its resources for what may be the last great ideological battle of the reagan presidency...of >> .hat could be one the great supreme court nomination fights of the century...d >> narrator: it star the reagan white house. >> ...conservative judge robert bork...of >> some friendine from the white house counsel's officeid called me and sa"it's happening now." so i jumped in a cab and came running er and managed to get through security and into the white house. wonderful, i was, uh, was very proud of him. it was kind of, kind of moving t to st. >> it is with great pleasure and deep respect for his
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extraordinary abilities that i today announce my intention to nominate unid states court of appeals judge robert h. bork to be an associate justice of the supreme court. >> i thought, "well, this man is an ideal person to be on the supreme court." >> judge bork, widely regarded as the most prominent and intellectually powerful advocatf udicial restraint... >> bork was sort of the hallmare of ultra-conservativl thought. this was going to dramatically change the court. it was going to change it in a far more conservative direction. >> narrator: reagan had already successfully appointed conservatives to a court he considered too liberal: sandra day o'connor, william rehnquist elevated to chief justice, antonin scalia. and now, with the retirement of lewis powell, reagan could secure conservative control ofth court. >> so this was an opportunity to really change the rection, not just for the next four years,
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but republicans were hoping for the next 40 ars. >> narrator: reagan's attorney general made a phone call to capitol he wantelert one powerful democratic senator. >> senator kennedy got a note that attorney general meese was calling for him. and he stepped out of the hearing into a phone booth and took the call. ant and meese told him that was going to be bork. >> narrator: kennedy headed for the senate chamber. to the liberal senator from massachusetts, bork was a dire threat. >> everything that bork hadfo written and stoomeant that the civil rights and affirmative action push of the civil rights movementas in danger. >> ...and the senator from massachusetts is recognized... >> narrator: it had only been an hour sin reagan's announcement. kennedy let the prident and bork know they were in for a fight. >> mr. president, i oppose theon nominaf robert bork to the
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supreme court, and i urge the senate to reject it. >> and our staff said, "hey, go hear what kennedy is saying." so i went over. >> robert bork's america is a land in which women would bell forced into back abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids. >> whoa, this sounds a little i knew robert bork, he'd been a professor of mine, and i liked the guy, but certainly my journalistic instinct was, "okay, the fht's on, the fat's in the fire. this is really going to be something." >> no justice would be better than this injustice. i yield back the balance of time. >> when he finished, there was just silence. i said, "what is all this (bleep)? whatwhat are you doing?" he said, "just know that we'll have to destroy him."
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>> and we were watching thisn tv as we were drinking champagne in the counsel's office. and i said, "are yfo guys ready this?" and they said, "oh, yeah, don't worry about it." well, th weren't ready. nobody was ready. i don't think they had any clue what was coming.s (protestouting) >> narrator: what was coming was a full-on political assault led by liberal democrats, with protests, phone banks,nd attack ads. >> so you're using every technique and every tool at your disposal. and we'd never seen that before. >> this is gregory peck. please, urge your senators to vote against the bork nomination, because if robert borkeins a seat on the suprem court, it will be for life-- his life and yours. >> it was the first moment that you saw all-out war over a supreme court nominee. xa it was the firstle of the politics of destruction of the modern era.
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>> the name and future of robert bork tops the agenda in washington this morning. president reagan's... >> and nowhere is the debate hotterhan at the confirmation hearings for supreme court nominee robert bork... >> this is a nbc news special repo... >> narrator: the judiciary committee hearings, led by the democrats, were broadcast on national television.t >> a momentous day in washington d.c.... >> judge robert bork began his battle for confirmation to the supreme court today. >> it was kind of it was tenseas tv lights-- very hot tv lights. there's a certain sense, when you're the family member, that there's absolutely nothing you can do. >> narrator: it was a cast designed for classic television drama-- the attackers: biden, heflin, metzenbaum, leahy, and kennedy. >> judge bork looks at senator nonnedy and senator kenned recognizes him. >> i was glued to the televisioo like everydy else.
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i was as smitten by all the television theatrical dram that, that everybody else was. >> narrator: and there were the defenders-- conservative republicans simpson and grassley. >>o the question was, "oka how is this guy going to present himself? what's going to be therill?" >> ...many controversial statements he has made as a professor and a judge i've >> narrator: for five hey clashed. >> can you derive a right to an abortion from the constitution? >> narrator: they challenged bork's views on controversial issu. >> yesterday you said women and blacks who know your record do fear you. >> it was epic. i mean, they were discussing very serious things.o >> have a constitutional right to speak recklessly? >> businand... >> ...were made in busing... >> and order, privacy... >> would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of... >> ...abortion rights... >> ...the human rits bill, which would have changed roe against wade... >> ...rights to determine all kinds of personal autonomy. >> you do not believe that there at is in the constitution?acy
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>> not one derived in that... >> narrator: bork's advisers told him to be succinct, not lecture the senators. >> i'll be happy to answer t committee's questions. >> narrator: he did not follow their instructions. >> oh, no, oh, no, senator. >> well, let me, let me pick at strain up. >> all right, but i... but i'd like to get on the record right now that i don't t feel very frdisregard what congress decided, that the mere fact that a law is outrageous is not enough to makt it unconional. >> i didn't think it was going well. i just thought it was torture. you want to tap your dad on the shoulder and say, "i would saywa it thi" um, can't do that. with that thing for you >> narrator: near the end, in an effort to save him, bork supporter wyoming senator alan simpson asked him one laston ques >> why do you want to be an associate justice of the united states supreme court? >> narrar: many believe bork's answer was the death knell of his nomination. i hink it would be an
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intellectual feast. >> some more bad news for supreme court nominee judgek. robert b >> telling the senators the first attraction of the supreme court is the intellectual pleasure of it. >> that seemed to be a big thing, "oh, intellectual feast." oh, well, what the hell, you know, but that's washington. >> and instead of saying, "i want to do justice and sho mercy and protect the rights of individuals," he says, "it'll be an intellectual feast." and most people said, "who's the dinner?" (chuckle >> regular order will be e clerk will continue calling the roll. >> mr. bumpers, no. mr. burdick. >> narrator: bork's candor h become a liability... >> mr. chaffee. >> narrator: ...for democrats and even some liberal republicans. rk and the conservativeeat for republicans, 42 to 58. >> mr. cranston, no. mr. kennedy. mr. kennedy, no.
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>> the job was to cut this guy down. get bork. it's now in the dictionaries oft the states and, and the world, it's called "getting borked." >> ...senator from kentucky. >> narrator: it was a searing experience for first-term senator mitch mcconnell. enraged, he took to the senate floor. >> and so to robert bork, you happened to be the one who set the new senate standard that will be applied, in my judgment, by a majority of the senate prospectively.y, unfortunatt got set over your dead body, so to speak, politically. narrator: mcconnell threatened that he and his republican colleagues would use the same tactics when it >> we're going tt when we want to. and when we want to is going to be whethe president, whoever he may be, sends up somebody we
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don't like. >> he'll be darned if he's going to allow them to just get away with taking somebody out witut paying a price for it later on down the road. >> and if we don't like the philosophical leaning of the nonee... >> narrator: it was a promise of revenge, a warning of what could happen if republicans took control. >> the danger of that approach, of course... ♪ (crowd cheering and applauding) >> narrator: the next year. the sustained applause is from membs of a new conservative legal group, the federalist society. it is for their hero, robert bork >> when bork got taken down, you know, their attitude, i think, became "never again." and this was sething that they promised never to forget, never to forgive.
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absolutely energizing. >> i have known less friendly gatherings. (audience laughs) >> the forces for bork who suffered that very painful defeat didn't give up, didn't go home to sulk. they went underground and built an infrastructure to create a new reality for our judicial politics. i intend to be in it, er. know you do, too. thank you. (audience apauds) >> narrator: the federalist society was started as a student group in 1981, with bork at yale and antonin scalia at the university of icago as the faculty advisers. ted olsospoke at their first convention. en unhappy with the fact thatad they felt that their law school education was tilted so strongly to the left, that they were not hearing opposing views.
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>> narrator: abortion. busing. protections for criminals. gay rights. the federalist society founderso thought the ts had gone too far to the left. >> for yrs, for decades, the left, as we call them, progressives, a lot in the democrat party, were getting a lot of their agenda passed through the courts. >> narrator: what began as a student group quickly grew, first as a job network, then a pool of prospective judges, supported by powerful conservative donors. i >> the olin foundati particular, the bradley foundation. there's this handful, this cluster of far-right foundations with tons of old money in them. and they start to nurture the federalist society. >> ...many members of the federalist society...ur >> narrator: dg reagan's presidency, more than half theti pol appointees of the justice department had ties to the federalist society, as did all 12 assistant attorney
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generals. >> i have an acronym that i use when i think about the federalist society. what's the mn idea, m-a-i-n, right? money, access, ideas, and network. and they were very successful on all those (fife and drum musicng) >> narrator: within ten years, ey had built 120 chapter 3,000 members with a budget of $700,000. (music continues) >> thurgood marshall, a man who played a pivotal role in the redefinition of justice in america, is >>tor: when the nation's first african-american justice, thurgood marshall, retired, it was a pivotal moment for senator mitch mcconnell and the federalist society, anop rtunity to replace a liberal justice with a conservative. >> ...washington rumor mill has gone into overdrive th morning...
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e>> narrator: members of federalist society had gone to work searching for a nominee, scouring lists of consvative lawyers, judges... one name stood out: clarence thomasan african-american appeals court judge. >> ...that i will nominate judge clarence thomas to serve as associate justice of the united states supreme court. >> narrator: the white house was determined that clarence thomas was not going to be borked. >> the individuals in the george h.w. bush administraon knew what was coming. r thembered vividly what had happened with robert bork. >> clarence thomas could not have been prepared for the mobho of still pgraphers... >> narrator:he republicans built a war room.ho they preppeds. >> senate hearings began on the supreme court nomination of... >> narrator: they warned him it could get >> cnce thomas, a black conservative originally from... >> narrator: once again, the proceedings would be a room where the bork he in the captivated americans. >> ...see judge thomas now with
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the chairman of the judiciary committee... >> narrator: the cast was familiar-- biden, kennedy,m, simpson, metzenbeflin. >> but we don't know how he's going to comport himself... >> nrator: this time, the republicans had an advantage. it would be hard for the democrats to forcefully ke on an african-american nominee. >> politically, they were in a very difficultosition. it's very difficult to attack an african-american judge, and they wanted to befriend him, not attack him. (gavel banging) >> the hearing will come to order. good morning, judge. welcome to the blinding lights it's a pleasure to, to have you here. >> polls initially showed that most americans wanted clarence thomas othe supreme court, which caused some of the senators, particularly t itially.s, to try to go easy
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>> heck, you're six, seven years younger than... i'm 48. how old are you, judge, 42, 43? >> well, i've aged over the last ten weeks, but, (audience laug i'm 43.>> 3 years old. >> narrator: thomas' white house handlers, sitting behind him,he waited foremocrats' questions. >> he was advised-- i know this to be very careful, to very modest. they're going to ask you about every controversial issue that has ever come before the supreme court. >> the area of civil rights... >> nartor: unlike bork, thomas wouldn't be so candid. >> ...i don't remember or recall participating... >> he was ke a steady brick wall. he just wasn't going to answer anything, and, and he didn't. >> i think that to take a position would undermine my ability to be impartial. >> say as little as possible. disavow any idea that you ever had. present yourself as a blank slate, and that's the only way
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to win. >> what i am trying to do, senator, is to respond to your question and at the same time not offer a particular view on this difficult issue of abortion... it was going to work. he was squeaking through. doubt clarence thomas ehe has no confirmed... >> confirmation hearings continue this morninin washington for clarence thomas... >> narrator: it had been eight days of the ittee would soon vote. >> if clarence thomas is confirmed to the supreme court, his nomination is certainly the most controversial since robert bork's... >> narrator: but national public radio reporter nina totenberg heard something unusua >> biden says something about, "people have tried to smear you with personal allegations." >> i believe tre are certain things that are not at issue at all.d at is his character, or characterization of s character. >> narrator: totenberg was surprised. no issues of character had beenr raised during the gs. tires, and i managed ted kicking
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stuff. >> narrator: she discovered a secret-- allegations of sexualnt harassy clarence thomas. >> and pretty soon, i had anita hill's name, and i called her up. >> narrator: anita hill had worked with thomas at the equal employment opportunity commission. >> according to hill's affidavit, thomas talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises sex acts.s involved in various >> here is a person who is in charge of protecting rights of women. he is also really violating the laws that he's there to enforce. >> it was just a giant exosion. i, i... (laughs) i mean, i walked up to citol hill... (makes explosion sound) it was like a mushroom cloud. >> good evening. we begin tonight with the potential for political explosion on capitol hill. >> clarence thomas ran into >> questions are growing over
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charges of sexual harassment against thomas... >> narrator: as the story broke senator mitch mcconnshed to the senate floor. nounced his choice, thedent special interest groups lined up their firing squad and vowed to bork him and to kill him politically. the process is being hijacked... >> narrator: mcconnell saw the allegations against thomas as yet another liberal takedown. >> mcconnell understands implication and consequence better than any united states when you vote on legis in the house and senate, you're playing for the next election. when you put in a judge, you're playing for the next generation. >> the sexual harassment storm around clarence thomas is intensifying. >> narrato now mcconnell would watch as anita hill threatened to derail thomas' >> tom, the stage isor what everyone anticipates will be a brutal hearing. (gavel banging) >> professor, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help
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you go >> i do. >> thank you. >> it was incredibly compelling television. you know, she was gorgeous, composed, obviously projecting sincerity. >> on other occasions, he referred to the size of his ownr penis as beingr than normal and he also spoke on some occasions of the pleasures he had given to women... with oral sex. n >> you cou take your eyes off this thing. you couldn't believe that people were accusing each other of tse things. and, and the senate had probably never heard languagere like this be >> narrator: the republicans had watched rk attacked for his ideology. now it was thomas's character, that was under assaud they would go all out to defend their nominee. >> my purpose is to find out what happened. >> narrator: senator arlen specter led the charge.
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>> i find the references to the alleged sexual harassment not only unbelievable, b preposterous. >> narrator: he cast doubt on her memory >> how reliable is your testimony on events thatte occurred eightyears ago... >> narrator: he suggested she was exaggerating. >> you took it to mean that judge thomas wanted to have sex with you, but in fact, he never did ask you have sex, correct? >> no, he did not ask me to have sex. b that was an inference that you drew? >> yes, yes. >> she stood between clarence thomas and the supremeourt. they had to destroy her in order get him confirmed. if what she was saying was true, he had lied unr oath. >> without objection, it will be placed in e record. again, i thank your family, thank you. adjourned until 9:00. (gavel bangs) >> all america had itste vision sets tuned to the u.s. sene... >> nothing like what happened today has ever happened before... >> washington, dc, a city
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disgusted by the gutter politics play out on capitol hill. >> narrator: but it wasn't over. inside the senate offices, claren thomas prepared to answer anita hill's allegations. senator alan simpson was in the room. >> we, we sat with thomas. and i told him my theory ofli cal life: an attack unanswered is an attack believed. not only that, but agreed to. t and he wry. but i said, "you must have something to say." he said, "i do." he said, "i really do have something to say." >> this is a circus. it's a national disgrace. and as far as i'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves,o tor themselves, to have different ideas. i remember sitting behind a senator and hearing that and
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just feeling like a bomb had gone off in the room. and it sucked all the oxygen out of the room. >> and it is a message that a unless you kowtow old order, this is what will happen to you. you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the u.s., u.s. senate rather than hung from a tre >> the question is on the confirmation of the nomination of crence thomas of georgia. the clerk will call the roll. >> up to robert bork, there was a sense of civility to this, that you could disagree without destroying. robert bork changed at, and clarence thomas confirmed it.he and withlarence thomas nomination, everybody was watching. >> this vote, the yeas are 52 and the nays are thnation of clarence thomas of georgia is hereby
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confirmed. >> narrator: clarence thomas was 43 years old. he vowed to stay on the court for 43 more years. ♪ in the yea after thomas' confirmation, mcconnell watched as democratic and republican presidents tried to tip the bance of the court. >> president clinton todayno minated ruth bader ginsburg... >> narrator: with republicans in the minority, bill clinton placeduth bader ginsburg and stephen breyer on the bench. >> ...the president sent congress the name of hisominee to fill the seat... >> narrator: george w. bush, with a republican sete, put john roberts and samuel alito on the court. >> barack obama is projected to be the next... >> narrator: with democrats back in control, barack obama appointed sonia sotomayor and elena kagan. >> still, many republicans are asking if she's the right person for the job... >> narrator: through it all, mcconnell had been climbing to power inside the senate.
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majority whip. republican leader. and finally, majority leader. >>here's nobody who's more focused on political conquest than he is. there may not have been anybody who has spent his entire life knows more than everybody else. it was how much he could win and how much power he could achieve. >> narrator: mcconnell had real power, and still holding on to a that grievanut what happened to robert bork, he waited for the right ment to use it. >> this is cnn breaking news... >> breaking news just in to us here at cnn. uned states supreme court justice antonin scalia has died. >> scalia is found dead in his, in his bed one day. and what to do in this... in this moment of crisis becomes probably the defining moment of, of mitch mcconnell's career. >> ...and breaking news, u.s. supreme court justice antonin... >> narrator: mcconnell immediately understood the political implicatio of scalia's death. >> the stakes are enormous, because if you replace scalia
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with a... an obama appointee, justices on the court that are going to move the court in a much more progresse direction. >> with that vacancy, the question is, will a republican-controlled sete... >> narrator: president barack obama's replacement would give democrats a five-justice majority on the court. >> mitch mcconnell doesn't even wait for the day to enafter antonin scalia dies to put out a statement saying, in effect, "we're not going to let president obama replace him." >> majority leader mitch mcconnell just releasing a statement... >> ...this vacan should not be filled until we have a new president. >> "it doesn't matter if you name anybody or not, i'm... we're not considering anybody because it's too close to the election." >> how shockg was that to you? >> it was amazing to me. i mean, they can say, "oh there's precedent." this was unprecedented. >> four-and-a-half weeks after
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justice scalia died, today presidt obama... >> friendly crowd in the rose garden there as president obama nominates merrick garlan.. >> narrator: undeterred by mcconnell, president obama would forge ahead. dge merrick brian garland toief join the supreme (audience ap) >> president obama was trying to to be confirmed.y who was going i thought, you know, how could members of the senate, withre their aces hanging out, stop this very appealing nominee about whom, really, not d word could be said? >> thank you, mr. president. this is the greatest honor of my life... (voice breaking): other than lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago. >> here is a man ofgu disthed education, distinguished background. this is e kind of person that should be on the supreme court. and if it's obama who's president, i was thrilled that he was appointing someone like merrick garland.
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>> fivrepublican senators have agreed to talk... >> a handful of republicans to break ranks, includi some facing tough re-election bids..r tor: mcconnell had a mini-revolt on his hands. >> i met with rrick garland. i liked him.d he's a person who wove gotten 98 votes or 100 votes in the 1990s, just a few years before. >> ...blasting his party's leadersh for stonewalling the nomination process... >> to not even allow the judiciary committee to hold a hearing on his nomination justt did t right with me. >> mitch mcconnell joins us now fromapitol hill. senator, thanks for being here. >> narrator: he fought back, hitting the airwaves. t right-of-center world does not want this vacancy filled by this president. we're not giving a lifetime appointment to this president on the way out t door, to change the supreme court for the next 25 or 30 years. >> senator moran from kansas said he thought maybe there ould be a hearing. and mcconnell just said to him, "you keep talking like that, and i'm running a primary opponent
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edainst you," and moran ba off. mcconnell was ruless and brilliant. >> narrator: mcconnell kept the republicans in line. there would be no hearings, no votes, no consideration of judge garland. >> the one thing that i've learned about mitch is, if at's the way it is. way it is, >> (chuckles) i don't ever question mcconnell. i mean, i worked with him-- you don't want to mess with mcconnell. >> democrats are outraged by senate majority leader... >> narrator: mitch mcconnell had done what had never been done-- he'd blocked any consideration of a supreme court nominee. >> ...said he didn't want to, waste garland's tiote, with unnecessary political routines... >> narrator: in the years since bork, mcconnell's ally, the federalist society, had become one of the most powerful forces in washington. >> the scale and scope was
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fantastic. they get into more and more law schools until they have a l chapter in every law schin the country. they have a lawyers' chapter in all e major cities. they're vetting all the nominees for federal judgeships. >> narrator: their revenue had grown to more than $26 million.e thre now over 60,000 members. >> the numbers are enormous. the money is enormous. and every important conservative jurist is a member, all the conservative members of the supreme court anthe rest of the courts on down through america. >> narrator: but in 2016, as mcconnell blocked merrick garland, the federalist society and threpublicans had a problem. >> we are led by very, very stupid people. >> narrator: they were worried about the republican presidential nominee, donald trump. >> drain the swamp! draithe swamp! >> but donald trump came out of nowhere to win the primary. he beat me and erybody else.
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but he was not a republican in the sense that most of us understand the word to be. bottom line, his judicial philosophy, what he saw to be a conservative judge, s unknown. >> narrator: mcconnell had a plan. he knew a lawyer, don mcgahn, who was in the federalistrk society and for the trump campaign. >> he's known don for manyar and they had a mutual trust. they understand where each other are on issues that they are extremely concerned about. >> narrator: they told trump that promising to appoint federalist judges uld help him win over >> leadennell asked the president at that point, and i think don mcgahn was part of those conversations, to begin putting out a list that he would make public. (horn honks)to >> narra candidate trump liked the idea of a list. he attended a meeting with the heads of the federalist society and the conservative heritage foundation. s >> he ry open about what
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he wanted to do. and he said he wanted a list. he said, "can anyo get one?" and i just raised my hand. "yes, sir." and he said, "can you have it by thursday?"ot wehe president a list of judges, and that's the federast society's business. >> he outsourced this, essentially, to these two organizations. he had no understanding of who these ople were. but when presented with it and when made clear that, "this will help you politically, this will shore up yr base," he said, "we got to do it." >> a lot of people are, likeita little borried about which judges. i'm going to submit a list of justic of the united states supreme court that i will appoint from the list. >> that list, that was a massive seller, which is, hey, you may hate trump, you may not trust him, but it's got to be this ten. and i don't think he'd be president without th list. >> narrator: mcconnell had helped trump get elected and he'd held open scalia's seat, paving the way for the nomination of federalist society
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favorite neil gorsuch. then, a year later, anotherpo unity. >> ...monumental moment... >> narrator: veteran justice anthony nnedy unexpectedly resigned. >> kennedy really was the middle of the court. so it's, it's a really serious moment, the most serious moment in the balance of the court, really, since even before bork. >> narrator: mitch mcconnell understood the stakes. kennedy's replacement could lock up conservative control of the court. >> president trump's pick is inh fonext supreme court nominee... >> brett kavanaugh to replace retiring..., >> narrator: mcconnetrump, and the federalist society again swung into action. ee president nominated ju brett kavanaug who had joined the feralist society at yale law school. >> kavanaugh is the perfect mcconnell nominee. he's very conservative on economic issues, on executive
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power issues. he's the perfect blending of establishment and sort of red-state-based politics. (gavel banging) >> narrator: at the confirmation hearings, the democrats immediately put up a fight. >> mr. chairman, i'd like to be recognized to ask a question. >> mr. chairman, it's a pending motion... >> if we don't even know what the rules are, how can we... >> i'd like to rpond to... >> mr. chairman... >> mr. chairman, we waited for more than a year with a vacancy on the supreme court. the treatment was shabby of merrick garland, president obama's nominee... >> democrats are really mad 2016, very recent histpened in >>eople see through this. >> republicans are still mad about bork. >> to my friends on e other side, you can't lose the election and pick judges. if you want to pick judges, you better win. >> this stuff is now intensely
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polarized and super-partisan.(g el banging) >> narrator: and as the republican-led hearings got under way, brett kavanaugh would follow the clarence thomas playbook. >> i can't give you an answer on that hypothetical question. senator, that soun like a hypothetical, i... >> narrator: he wouldn't engage. >> ...that's the hypothetical that you're asking me... senator, i think that hypothetical that you're asking is... ...a hypothetical that, uh, about any statute that you're asking me...m >> narrator: fs office, mcconnell watched the hearings. it all seemed to be going smoothly. >> what you fear is the unknown. you don't know what you don't know. and if there is something out there, some bombshell drop, or some way of captivating media attention, then you could have problems. >> dropping a bombshell exactly one week before the committee is set to vote...n >> and then you be see the newspapers' vague references to anonymous allegations that had been lodged against brett kavanaugh about his conduct. .. an allegation from his.
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>> narrator: the allegation-- sexual assault. >> word of her leaks out withou, her name at find then when there's, the news breaks, just nalike with anita hill, he is leaked. >> her name is christine bley ford. >> the woman's name is christine blasey ford. >> christine blasey ford... >> narrator: monnell wouldn't back down from the coming fight. >> i think he was furious. you know, this was the torpedo that he dreaded. >> christine blasey ford described kavanaugh as stumbling drunk... narrator: he was worrie about losing the senate in the upcoming midterms. he had to get kavanaugh confirmed st. >> you know, those words of mcconnell, "you will rue the day," back in the bork fight? those equally applied to him if he lost the kavanaugh fight, because the democrats, ithey controlled the senate after this election, he would rue the day of what he'd done in garland. >> narrator: mcconnellaunched
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a counterattack. >> senate democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man's personal and professional life on the basis decades-old >> narrator: bork. thomas. now kavanaugh. the fight for the court had become personal. mcconnell blamed the democrats. >> democrats wouldn't let a few inconvenient things get between them and a good smear. it's despicable. >> he's never faced a fight like this. he never faced one where he could go, go down like this. and it was right there on the razor's edge. ♪ ro>> just moments away now the historic testimony of blasey ford before the >> dr. ford has arrived here on capitol hill to testify in public for the first time.t >>ll certainly be an historic day on capitol hill. >> remember, nobody had seen her
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and nobody had heard from her. not even the senators. so it was a total surpri. >> (voice shaking): i am here today not because i want to be. i am terrified. i am here because i believe it is mcivic duty to tell you what happened to me while brett kavanaugh and i weren high school. >> when you realized how genuinely terrified she was to be there, it shocked a lot of the older, longer-serving senators, that once again, thisu was being brought into the public sphere. >> (voice breaking): i believed he was going to rape me.lp i tried to yell for when i did, brett put his hander y mouth to stop me from yelling. this is what terrified me the sting impact on my it was hard for me to breathe, and i thought that brett was accidentally going to kill me.
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>> it was, of course, a larger-than-life moment. christine blasey ford had to go before the eyeof a nation and the world. >> i thought she was enormously courageous, enormously persuasive. >> she was very polite and just looked dead honest. >> it was a huge burden on her to come forward. >> it was impossible not to be riveted with her testimony.wa shcompelling. >> narrator: some of the senators that day had also been at the clarence thomas hearings. patrick leahy was one. >> when dr. ford testified, i asked her, "what do you remember of that incident?" and i think erybody in that hearing remembers her answer. >> theaughter, the laugh-- the uproarious laughter between the two, and they'reaving fun at my expense. i was, you know, underneath one
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of them while the two laughed, two friends having aeally good >> narrator: it looked bad for brett kavanaugh and the republicans. >> thiis over, this was devastating. >> i believe those who wanted to believe hedid. >> the mood among republicans on the hill was one of gloom.ri >> we had a meetint after her testimony. and i could tell that my colleagues were moved and they were saying, younow, "he'd better be good. he'd better have an answer, because she sounds very credible." >> the worst-case scenario for kavanaugh and his defenders wasj wht transpired. >> narrator: at the white house, the president of the united a states ho been watching. >> both the president and leader mcconnell und her testimony to be incredibly compelling. >> i was in the white house the entire day, including watching the testimony of both ford and
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kavanaugh. the president watched it live. and the president and i have aith said, each of us have publicly, she gave, she rendered compelling testimony. >> narrator: the president picked up the phone. on the other end-- mitch mcconnell. >> both of them are kind of testing each other a little bit. "where are you at on this?" you know, "how strong are you?" and mcconnl basically says to the president, "you don't worry about me. that's his quote.e piss." "i'm strong as mule piss." in other words, he's not goi to let up, he's not going to give up, he's not going to surrender. ♪ >> to say that everything that could have gone wrong for brett kavanaugh has is an understatement. >> the impetus is on judge kavanaugh. they did not have the votes in the senate... >> do not underestimate the ew hoursce of the next for brett kavanaugh. y >> at some point, if poke a stick and you torment thatrs peon and you attack that person, at some point, that
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individual's going to fight back. >> i categorically and unuivocally deny the allegation against me by dr. ford. i never had any sexual or physical encounter of any kind with dr. ford. >> it was like watching clarence thomas all over again. the was another version of "high-tech lynching." >> this confirmation process has become a national disgrace. but u have replaced advice a consent with search and destroy. >> narrator: clarence thomas had invoked race. now brett kavanaugh launched a partisan attack on the democrats. >>his whole two-week effor has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about present trump, revenge on behalf of the clintons, and millions ofey dollars in mrom outside left-wing opposition groups. >> it has become this completely he took the allegations away b
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from christisey ford and turned it into a huge fight between democrats and republicans. he's trying to rally all the republicans to his side. >> narrator: kavanaugh had become a combatant in the war between republicans ands. democr >> does this reflect what you are? does this yearbook reflect your focus on... >> narrator: they squared off over his high school yearbook. >> that's easy, yes or no, you don't have to filibuster... >> oh, no, no, no, no, no, you got this up, i'm going to, i'm going to talk about my high school... no, no, i'm going toalk... >> let him answer! >> i'm going to talk about my high school record if you're going to sit here anmock me. >> did it relate to alcohol? you haven't answered that. >> i like beer, i ke beer.i don't know if you do.. do you like beer, senator? >> the quote that jumped out at me was, "brett was sloppy drunk, and i know because i drank with him." >> that july 1 referce to "skis," "went over for skis," that's "brewskis," correct? >> andfter tobin... >> sir, sir, i just need a yes
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or no-- that, "brewskis," right? >> well, i need to explain context. >> you just said, sir, that your k on weekdays. that's all i was looking for. >> you're saying there's never been a caswhere you drank so much that you didn't remember what happened the night before it's, you're asking about, yeah, blackout, i don't know, have you? >> could you answer the question, judge? i just... so, you...hat's not happened. is that your answer? >> yeah, and i'm curious if you have. >> i have no drinking problem, judge. >> yeah, nor do i. o y, thank you. >> senator graham. >> narrator: on e republican side, lindsey graham led the fight. >> this is the most unethical sham since i've been in politics. boy, you all want power. god, i hope you never get it. i hope the american people can see through this sham. god, i hate to say it because these ha been my friends, but let me tell you, when it comes to this, you're looking foa fair process?
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you came to the wrong townt the wrong time, my friend.b this is not a terview. this is hell. >> is this... >> this is going to destroy the ability of good people to come forward because of this crap. your high school yearbook! >> it serves to rally republicans and make it an us- versus-them kind of issue. heand if it's an us-versus kind of issue, when you have the majority, that's what you want. >> the clerk will call the roll. >> mr. cruz. mrs. ernst. mr. flake. mr. gardner. ms. duckworth. ra >> nr: with mcconnell's republicans almost entirely in line... >> mr. >> nar brett kavanaugh was confirmed. >> mr. udall. >> our friends in the united states senate, on both sides, created that environment.
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>> mr. warner. >> a now we have to live with it. >> ms. warren. >> and the problem is, we can't. >> mr. whitehous>> and the biggs that we are now hopelessly divided on the last thing that used to unite us, which is our judicial system. now there's nothing that pullsr. us toget nothing. >> narrator: kavanaugh, gorsuch, thomas, alito, roberts-- the federalist society and mitch mcconnell now dominatehe supreme court. >> you talk about the warren court or the burger court or the roberts court, we're living in the era of the mcconnell courtca now e he did what he did. and it very well could be the mcconnell court for several decades to come. >> claree thomas doesn't want to serve on the high court anymore. >> clarence thomas comfortableth retiring now, ane's a couple of others... >> surgeons today removed two malignant nodules from supreme
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court justice ruth bader ginsburg's left lu. >> the 85 year old is said to have fractured three ribs...o >> rbg's health has the subject of much attention in recent years... >> go to for frontline's latest transparency project, and explore the dozens of interviews in "supreme revenge." w >> imeked up to capitol hill... (makes explosion sound) >> it was theepitome ofto ally broken system. >> i'm going to submit a list of justices... >> that list wasmassive seller. and idon't think he'dbe president without thatlist. >> connect to the frontline community on facebook d twitter, and >> narrator: "sex trcking in america." >> what happened to me could happen to anyone. >> narrator: for over two years frontline embedded with a special police >> withoutmers there's no girls out there. our work is constantly evolving. >> technology has given a
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superhighway for traffickers to vulnerable victims. >>narrator: from the streets to the courts... >> it's difficult to think of something more despicable than that.yo you an co-defendants preyed on a child. >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant re information atd. the ford foundation:wi workin visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide.nd at additional support is provided by the abramfoundation, committed to excellence in journalism. the park foundation, dedicated to heightening publica awareness of criissues. the john and helen glessner family trust. supporting trustworthy journalism that informs and inspires. ontline journalism fund,
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with major support from jon and jo ann hagler. and additional support from the charina endowment fund. captioned by media access group at wgbh >>or more on this and othe "frontline" programs, visit our website at ♪ to order "frontline's" "supreme revenge on dvd visit shoppbs, or call 1-800-play-pbs. this program is also available on amazon prime video. ♪
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♪ you're watching pbs. ♪ ♪ -you've said you'd favor middle-class tax cuts. -the front line is just up here. that's where the riv -she took me out to those wetlands. -i think we're off to a great start. ♪
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