Politics

Kavanaugh Hearings Day 2: Senators' Questions To Take Center Stage

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in by committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to testify during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in by committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to testify during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Pool/Getty Images

After a long day of speeches and vocal protests from the audience Tuesday, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee get down to business Wednesday, with a marathon round of questions for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Democrats have promised to quiz Kavanaugh on hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control. But barring a surprise, Senate Republicans have the votes to confirm him in time for Kavanaugh to take his place on the high court when it begins its fall term next month.

"Judge Kavanaugh is one of the most qualified nominees, if not the most qualified nominee that I've seen," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee's chairman.

Tuesday's hearing was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, who worry that Kavanaugh will tilt the high court far to the right, cementing a 5-4 conservative majority for years to come. According to the Capitol Police, 61 people were removed from the committee room during the hearing and charged with disorderly conduct. (Another nine people were arrested on different charges in a second Senate office building for a total of 70 demonstration-related arrests Tuesday, the Capitol Police said.)

"This nominee has devoted his entire career to a conservative Republican agenda," said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. She pointed to Kavanaugh's work investigating then-President Bill Clinton in the 1990s with independent counsel Kenneth Starr, litigating the contested presidential election of 2000 and work in the George W. Bush White House.

"In all of these efforts, he has shown that he seeks to win at all costs, even if that means pushing the envelope," Harris said.

Democrats on the committee complained that hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from Kavanaugh's time in the White House have not been turned over. But Republicans countered that lawmakers can easily assess Kavanaugh's record from the hundreds of opinions he's written during a dozen years as a D.C. federal appeals court judge, including more than a dozen opinions where his reasoning was adopted by the Supreme Court.

"The Supreme Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution," Kavanaugh said in his opening statement Tuesday. "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 laws of the United States."

Kavanaugh is also likely to be questioned about his thoughts on presidential power and immunity. Although he worked on the Starr report, he later wrote that a sitting president should not have to face the distraction of civil or criminal investigations — a position that worries Democrats in light of the ongoing Department of Justice probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

"We have to confront an uncomfortable but important question about whether President Trump may have selected you, Judge Kavanaugh, with an eye towards protecting himself," said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.

Republicans brushed aside complaints that Kavanaugh is too partisan and accused Democrats of stalling tactics.

"Their motives are clear," said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, as committee Democrats pushed repeatedly to postpone the hearing. "Use any means available to attempt to delay the confirmation process of a well-qualified jurist, fit for the job, indefinitely."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the committee, noted that President Trump campaigned on a pledge of shifting the high court to the right.

"The president that nominated you has said, 'I will nominate someone who is anti-choice and pro-gun.'" Feinstein said. "And we believe what he said."

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., argued that Hillary Clinton would have had precisely the opposite litmus tests for high court nominees had she been elected instead of Trump.

"You had a chance and you lost," Graham said to Democrats. "If you want to pick judges from your way of thinking, then you better win an election."

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