Records Issue Roils Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing

WASHINGTON (CN) – In a confirmation hearing that began Tuesday with raucous protests, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assured the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would apply the law evenly if confirmed.

“Over the past 12 years, I have ruled sometimes for the prosecution and sometimes for criminal defendants, sometimes for workers and sometimes for businesses, sometimes for environmentalists and sometimes for coal miners,” Kavanaugh said. “In each case, I have followed the law. I do not decide cases based on personal or policy preferences. I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge.”

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, standing with Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, arrives at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 4, 2018, to begin his confirmation hearing to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Kavanaugh called Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom he is poised to replace and for whom he clerked, “one of the most consequential justices in American history” and a “mentor, a friend and a hero.”

Holding up Kennedy as an example of judicial independence, Kavanaugh said it is important judges not bow to political pressure once on the bench.

Kavanaugh testified as well that judges should evaluate the Constitution “as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent,” describing his own judicial philosophy as “straightforward.”

He said he would “strive to be a team player” if confirmed to the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution,” Kavanaugh said. “The justices on the Supreme Court do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle. They do not caucus in separate rooms. If confirmed to the court, I would be part of a team of nine, committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”

The D.C. Circuit judge also spoke glowingly of his experience coaching his daughter’s basketball team, of attending football and baseball games with his dad,  and of hearing his mother, a prosecutor, practice closing arguments at the dinner table when he was a child.

Kavanaugh’s introduction came at the end of a lengthy day before the committee filled with shouting protesters, opening statements from lawmakers, and fights over the release of documents from his time working in the George W. Bush White House.

In this image provided by the Department of Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, second from left, talks with President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, and Andy Card, second from right, aboard Air force One. Kavanaugh has been a conservative team player, and the Supreme Court nominee has stepped up to make a play at key moments in politics, government and the law dating to the Bill Clinton era. (Department of Justice via AP)

Proceedings began this morning with Democrats requesting a delay so that senators can review Kavanaugh’s documents from his time as White House staff secretary from 2001 to 2006. The demand follows news this weekend that President Donald Trump blocked the release of more than 100,000 Kavanaugh documents, citing executive privilege.

“To go into this hearing without those documents is an undermining of the constitutional role to which we have all sworn an oath to uphold,” Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., said at the hearing.

With the lawmakers drowned out periodically by shouting protesters, Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley rejected the Democrats’ request to vote on a motion to adjourn the hearing, calling them “out of order.”

Rejecting the Democrats’ concerns about the lack of access to Kavanaugh’s White House records, Senator Grassley said the judge’s portfolio of more than 300 opinions on the D.C. Circuit is the most important batch of documents lawmakers could ever hope to review.

“Senators have had more than enough time and materials to adequately assess Judge Kavanaugh’s qualifications and so that’s why I proceeded,” Grassley said at the hearing.

Committee Democrats shot back that they have not had enough time to review all of Kavanaugh’s relevant documents, particularly a batch of more than 40,000 the committee received Monday.

“The majority rushed into this hearing and is refusing to even look at the nominee’s full record,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said at the hearing.

President Donald Trump announces xxxxx as his Supreme Court nominee, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The committee has received more than 480,000 pages from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House since Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination in July. Democrats contend, however, that this number represents a small fraction of the documents that came across Kavanaugh’s desk and omits key issues and time periods.

Following their bickering about document production Tuesday, the lawmakers delivered opening statements — the gist of which is likely to dominate the fight over Kavanaugh’s nomination over the next several days.

Democrats cast Kavanaugh as a hyper-conservative judge with an expansive views of executive power and a bias in favor of corporate interests.

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., suggested Kavanaugh’s opinions on executive power might be why the judge caught Trump’s attention. Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., similarly expressed concerns about the judge’s views of this area of law.

“Most importantly, I believe you have repeatedly, enthusiastically embraced an interpretation of presidential power so expansive, it could result in a dangerously unaccountable president at the very time we are most in need of checks and balances,” Coons said at the hearing.

Other lawmakers raised concerns about Kavanaugh’s views on abortion and gun rights, as well as other hot-button issues the Supreme Court is likely to consider.

Feinstein specifically pointed to Kavanaugh’s opinion in Heller v. District of Columbia as advocating a broad view of the Second Amendment that is outside the judicial mainstream.

“If the Supreme Court were to follow your reasoning, I fear the number of victims would continue to grow and citizens would be rendered powerless in enacting sensible gun laws,” Feinstein said.

Republicans, meanwhile, countered these allegations by saying Democrats were using overheated rhetoric to paint a mainstream conservative justice as an outlier.

“Judge Kavanaugh is no ideologue, he is no extremist,” said Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “He is a highly respected and thoughtful and fair minded judge who is well within the judicial mainstream,”

President Donald Trump announces xxxxx as his Supreme Court nominee, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republicans also downplayed the documents fight, saying Democrats were only agitating for them because they have not been able to land a hit on the judge’s legal record.

“There’s an old saying for trial lawyers: if you have the facts, pound the facts; if you have the law, pound the law; if you have neither, pound the table,” Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said. “We’re seeing a lot of table pounding this morning.”

The hearing is expected to last three to four days and will feature testimony from legal experts, former Kavanaugh law clerks and the longtime D.C. Circuit judge himself.

Introducing Kavanaugh to the committee, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Kavanaugh is hard-working and “seeks truth in fact.” Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, meanwhile, called the judge “thoughtful and compassionate.”

Lisa Blatt, a partner at the firm Arnold & Porter and a self-described liberal Democrat, said that Kavanaugh’s view of the law may differ from her own, but that he “is the best choice that liberals could reasonably hope for” today.

“If it were up to me, Justice Ginsburg would have all nine votes,” Blatt said. “But that’s not our system and the reality is that the presidency and the Senate are in Republican hands.”

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