- Judge Brett Kavanaugh has maintained a fairly clean record, leaving Democrats without much to go after as his nomination progresses.
- While Democrats have been focused on issues like abortion, they have also reached for other sticking points like his credit card debt and past writings about presidential scrutiny.
- Support for Kavanaugh has remained steady and Democrats open to supporting his confirmation have so far not budged.
WASHINGTON – The Donald Trump White House has at times had trouble vetting candidates for key administration posts, cabinet positions, and even judicial nominations.
But so far, Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh has kept his squeaky clean image intact.
Still, that hasn’t stopped Democrats – who by and large are opposed to Kavanaugh’s nomination based on policy grounds – from trying to find a cohesive strategy to oppose his nomination.
One part of Kavanaugh’s past that Democrats have been vocal about are his past writings on what kind of legal scrutiny US presidents should be subject to while in office.
Past writings have become a key point from Democrats
In a 2009 article in a law journal, Kavanaugh wrote that former President Bill Clinton should not have had to deal the with the distractions of civil lawsuits for alleged sexual misconduct, and that the country would have been better off without the subsequent investigations that followed.
Kavanaugh went further, writing that “it would be appropriate for Congress to enact a statute providing that any personal civil suits against presidents, like certain members of the military, be deferred while the President is in office.”
Democrats have used those writings to note the dangers of a suit or investigation coming before the Supreme Court with Trump as it relates to the special counsel investigation headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian election interference and possible involvement from the Trump campaign.
“It’s especially a level of concern when he’s going to have a feeling of debt and gratitude to the president that just nominated him,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy told Business Insider. “Given how quick a case may come to the court regarding the Mueller investigation and the consequences of it, I’m very concerned about what he’s written.”
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, added, “I think a thing that concerns me from some of his writings is that the president shouldn’t be distracted by criminal law or investigations of the president. If that’s the reason he was picked, that’s worrisome.”
And on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to withdraw circuit judge nominee Ryan Bounds after issues surrounding past writings came up. The nominee, an assistant US attorney from Oregon, had written inflammatory things about certain races and groups while an undergrad at Stanford University.
Immediately after Bounds’ nomination was withdrawn, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent an email to reporters tying it to Kavanaugh.
“Republicans just sunk the Bounds nomination based on his college writings. After that, how are they going to argue that Judge Kavanaugh’s White House papers aren’t relevant to his nomination to the Supreme Court?” wrote Schumer spokesman Matt House. “A lower court nominee’s college writings are relevant but a Supreme Court nominee’s White House writings aren’t? I don’t think so.”
While Kavanaugh’s writings about presidential authority in a law journal are in no way related to racially insensitive writings in op-eds by Bounds, it is something Democrats are likely to continue pushing.
Roe v. Wade
One of the most important areas for Democrats is Kavanaugh’s (or any new nominee’s) views on the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade.
Kavanaugh is a textualist judge, very much in the mould of past justices like the late Antonin Scalia. Specific statements that may reflect how he might rule on a potential case about abortion are scarce, but do exist.
During a 2017 speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Kavanaugh said, “It is fair to say that Justice Rehnquist was not successful in convincing a majority of justices in the context of abortion, either in Roe itself or in later cases such as Casey. But he was successful in stemming the general tide of free-wheeling judicial creation of unenumerated rights that were not rooted in the nation’s history and tradition.”
But Kavanaugh has also acknowledged the precedent set by Roe.
“If confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, I would follow Roe v. Wade faithfully and fully,” Kavanaugh told Schumer during his confirmation to the appeals court in 2006. “That would be binding precedent of the Court. It’s been decided by the Supreme Court.”
Credit card debt
Kavanaugh is a big fan of the Washington Nationals, and racked up a significant heap of credit card debt purchasing season tickets, which he has since stopped doing.
According to financial disclosures, Kavanaugh’s debt piled up to somewhere between $US60,000 and $US200,000 amongst three credit cards. By 2017, he had paid off enough of the debt for it to not be listed on new financial disclosures, but the issue has remained a small sticking point for Democrats.
Among other personal issues for Kavanaugh have been his frat boy demeanour, with reports that he served as treasurer of the “Keg City Club – 100 Kegs or Bust” while in high school.
Some groups even went after his first name, suggesting men named “Brett” cannot understand or properly weigh in on certain women’s issues.
— NARAL (@NARAL) July 11, 2018
But those criticisms have largely been relegated to outside groups and organisations, and are not an actual issue among the elected officials considering his nomination.
Support for Kavanaugh has been steady
Republican support for Kavanaugh has not waned, while the few Democrats on the fence have kept their minds open.
The GOP senators who could sway Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, have been relatively positive about chances of supporting him, though there is still more time for decisions to flip.
On the Democratic side, a big chunk of the caucus is still perusing Kavanaugh’s record. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who has kept his options open about voting on Kavanaugh, said there is not much Democratic leadership can do to sway his vote.
“I’ll be 71 years old in August, you’re going to whip me?” Manchin told Politico. “Kiss my you know what.”
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