- Judge Brett Kavanaugh sat through several days of hearings last week, during which senators on the Judiciary Committee probed his record and positions to determine his fitness to serve on the Supreme Court.
- The hearings were routinely interrupted by protesters each day, while Democrats and Republicans on the committee fought with each other about procedure and transparency.
- Kavanaugh did answer a lot of questions in a number of key areas, including abortion, gun rights, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
- The makeup of support and opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation in the Senate appears to have held relatively steady throughout the marathon testimony.
WASHINGTON – The confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh were a long four days in which lawmakers grilled President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve on the Supreme Court.
And while Kavanaugh’s judicial record was widely known beforehand, the hearings revealed new information and insight into how the final vote for his confirmation will fare in the coming weeks – and what Kavanaugh thinks about some key issues.
Kavanaugh, whose hearings were swarmed with protesters from various activist groups opposed to his nomination, revealed a trove of information about himself, while concealing just as much. He said his favourite writing from the Federalist papers is Federalist No. 69, in which Alexander Hamilton details how the US presidency is not a monarchy, he showed that he can list every name and age of the players on the girls basketball team he coached, and more.
On a policy level, which could provide key insights into how he might rule should he be confirmed to the highest court in the US, answers were mixed. While judges of Kavanaugh’s calibre often try to avoid revealing such positions, he had to answer questions from senators looking to understand a number of different areas. Here is what he said:
Kavanaugh hammered in the importance of precedent, which has been a major sticking point for Democrats looking to preserve abortion access and the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
A key point about Kavanaugh’s stances on abortion came on Thursday, when The New York Times revealed an email exchange from Kavanaugh’s tenure working for the George W. Bush administration.
In the email, Kavanaugh appears to balk at the suggestion that Roe is settled law.
“I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent,” Kavanaugh wrote in 2003, adding that at least three of the justices on the court at the time would hold that view.
But Kavanaugh tampered the email during an exchange with Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, telling him that he was not asserting his own views, but that many legal scholars hold such a position on Roe.
“I think that’s what legal scholars have ― some ― some legal scholars have undoubtedly said things like that over time, but that ― that’s different from what I as a judge ― my position as a judge is that there’s 45 years of precedent and there’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe,” he said. “So that’s precedent on precedent, as I’ve explained, and that’s important. And that’s an important precedent to the Supreme Court.”
The right to own firearms was a frequent topics throughout the week of hearings.
On Tuesday, Kavanaugh got into a tense back-and-forth with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, about what kinds of firearms would fall into the category of “unusual” weapons not suitable for public ownership.
“Again this is all about precedent for me, trying to read exactly what the Supreme Court said. And if you read the McDonald case, and I concluded that it could not be distinguished as a matter of law that semiautomatic rifles from semiautomatic handguns, and semiautomatic rifles are widely possessed in the United States,” he said. “There are millions and millions and millions of semiautomatic rifles that are possessed. So that seemed to fit common use and not be a dangerous and unusual weapon.”
In response, Feinstein tried to draw distinction between “use” and “possession” of firearms, again probing Kavanaugh as to how semiautomatic rifles could be considered common use. Kavanaugh responded that “they are widely-possessed in the United States” and “they are used and possessed.”
“But the question is are they dangerous and unusual?” he added, noting their prevalence in the US. “They’re certainly dangerous – all weapons are dangerous – but are they unusual?”
Kavanaugh’s answers, including his past rulings on gun-related issues, showed that he is very much in the mould of the late-Justice Antonin Scalia, who penned the majority decision in the landmark 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, which held that individuals have the right to possess firearms in the US.
The special counsel investigation
Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesSenate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
The special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, was a significant focus of much of the confirmation hearings with Kavanaugh.
Questions arose about whether Kavanaugh had any conversations about the special counsel with employees at Kasowitz Benson Torres, a law firm co-founded by Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz.
California Sen. Kamala Harris probed Kavanaugh about the matter.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed your lack of a clear answer to a question I asked you last night has generated a lot of interest,” Harris said during Thursday’s hearing. “I received reliable information that you had a conversation about the special counsel or his investigation with the law firm that has represented President Trump.”
Kavanaugh denied having conversations about the special counsel with individuals at Kasowitz Benson Torres, and the firm also denied that anyone from their office spoke to him about it.
In addition to the special counsel, Kavanaugh’s views on executive authority were a constant focus throughout the hearings. But in many cases, Kavanaugh refused to answer hypothetical questions from Democrats on the panel, a common practice for judicial nominees.
The bottom line: Will Kavanaugh have the votes?
After most senators settled in to their usual roles and the chaos of protests and political infighting subsided, the support for Kavanaugh among the Republican ranks is the same. In addition, Democrats fiercely opposed to his confirmation have remained in their hardened stance.
In the coming weeks, as the final vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation draws near, the handful of Democrats on the fence who are in a potential political bind depending on how they vote will begin to maker their positions known. Kavanaugh only needs 51 votes, which, as of right now, appear to be holding in place.
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