|It's the storm before the calm at the Supreme Court. Americans watched Thursday's high court nomination hearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh with rapt attention. The televised spectacle was filled with disturbing allegations of sexual assault and Kavanaugh's angry, emotional denial.
On Monday, the court will begin its new term with the crack of the marshal's gavel and not a camera in sight. The term's start has been completely overshadowed by the tumult over Kavanaugh's nomination.
Republicans had hoped to have Kavanaugh confirmed in time for the court's first public meeting since late June, an addition that would cement conservative control of the court.
Instead, there are only eight justices on the bench for the second time in three terms, with a breakdown of four conservatives and four liberals. The court was down a member in October 2016, too, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court in April 2017, after all but about a dozen cases had been argued
It's unclear how long the vacancy created by Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement in July will last. Consideration of Kavanaugh's nomination by the Senate has been delayed while the FBI undertakes an investigation of Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982.
An empty seat on the bench often forces a push for compromise and leads to a less exciting caseload, mainly to avoid 4-4 splits between conservatives and liberals.
The cases the court has agreed to hear so far this term look nothing like the stream of high-profile disputes over President Donald Trump's travel ban, partisan redistricting, union fees and a clash over religious objections to same-sex marriage that the court heard last term.