The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court got underway Tuesday, with Democrats protesting the process and at least one of the Republicans serving on the committee already having made up his mind.
“Judge Kavanaugh, I’m proud of you,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) said during his opening remarks Tuesday,. “ I know how good you are. I know you deserve this position. I’m proud of the president for nominating you. And frankly, I wish you the best, because we’re going to confirm you.”
Hatch’s prepared statement was frequently interrupted by shouting protesters, who were dragged out of the hearing room. He also accused some of his Democratic colleagues on the committee of grandstanding to the TV cameras in the early going Tuesday. “We have folks who want to run for president, who want their moment in the spotlight, who want that coveted TV clip. Frankly, I wish we could drop all the nonsense.”
Democrats on the committee including Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Cory Booker of Nw Jersey used the opening of several days of expected hearings to express dismay that more than 100,000 documents relating to Kavanaugh’s tenure as President George W. Bush’s staff secretary are being withheld from public scrutiny – and that the decision to keep those records secret had been made by a private attorney who currently represents several current and former Donald Trump administration officials involved in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.
That attorney, William Burke, once Kavanaugh’s deputy in the Bush White House, currently represents Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist; Reince Priebus, former White House chief of staff; and Don McGahn, the White House counsel who is exiting after these confirmation hearings.
“What is being hidden, and why?” asked Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “Every White House record that we have received was hand-picked by your deputy in the Bush White House, a hyper-conflicted lawyer who represents half a dozen Trump administration officials who are under investigation by prosecutors in the Russian investigation. And this partisan lawyer has decided which of your records the Senate — but more importantly, the American people — get to see.”
Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R.-IA) called Leahy’s assertions “ridiculous,” saying that “the documents we have add up to more than we have for the last five Supreme Court nominees.”
Leahy also complained that only 4% of Kavanaugh’s White House records have been shared with the public and that only 7% have been shared with the committee. By contrast, he pointed out that during the 2010 confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, 99% of her records as President Bill Clinton’s associate White House counsel were made available to the public.
“Today, the Senate is not simply phoning in our vetting obligation, we’re discarding it,” he said. “It’s not only shameful, it’s a sham.”
Democrats have also expressed concerns about Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade; his evolving views on the powers of the presidency; the three years he spent as an attorney working for Ken Starr during the investigation leading up to Clinton’s impeachment; and his role in the still-disputed election of 2000, in which he joined the Bush campaign’s successful efforts to stop the vote recounting in Florida and secure the presidency for Bush.
Three years later, Bush nominated Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, on which he sits today.
Dick Durbin (D. IL) asked Kavanaugh to “step up” and ask that his confirmation be suspended until all of his records are release.
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said that there’s a disturbing “pattern” in the rulings by the “Roberts Five” – Chief Justice John Roberts and the other four Supreme Court justices nominated by Republican presidents – that in 73 5-4 rulings during Roberts’ tenure have exclusively served the interests of big business and conservative interest groups.
“The litany of ‘Roberts Five’ decisions explains why big Republican interests want Judge Kavanaugh on the court so badly,” Whitehouse said. “Big Republican interests keep winning 5-4 partisan decisions: 73-0, Mr. Kavanaugh, every damned time.”
Whitehouse then rattled off a long list of 5-4 decisions favoring those interests, including those that have helped Republicans to gerrymander congressional districts, suppress minority voters, protect their big-money political donations, “bust unions” and undo environmental regulations.
Whitehouse stopped short of calling Kavanaugh a political hack but told him that prior to his appointment to the appellate court in 2003 he had been “a Republican operative your entire career.”
He also noted that such big business and partisan groups the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation had recommended his nomination, as they had that of Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s previous Supreme Court pick who was confirmed in April. “That should give every senator pause,” Whitehouse said.
Ted Cruz (R-TX) called his Democratic colleagues’ opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation an effort to “re-litigate the 2016 election. … My Democratic colleagues are not happy with the choice the American people made.” He also claimed that if Hillary Clinton had won the election, she would have appointed justices who would have taken away the right of every American to own guns.
Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) charged that Trump had “outsourced” Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Society. “They’re the ones who have really nominated you,” he told the judge. Blumenthal then told Kavanaugh, “You’ve done everything in your power to show those far-right groups that you will be a loyal soldier on the court.”
Blumenthal also urged the nominee to ask for a postponement of the hearings. “If you are confirmed after this truncated and concealed process, there will always be a taint; there will always be an asterisk after your name — appointed by a president named as an unindicted co-conspirator.”