Senate Panel To Question Supreme Court Nominee Kavanaugh

Sep 5, 2018
Originally published on September 5, 2018 7:14 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is facing his first full day of questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee. For the second day in a row, protesters have tried to disrupt the proceedings. Democrats have tough question for Kavanaugh about his time in the Bush White House and, no doubt, will try to get him to articulate his views on abortion and executive power. Kavanaugh, though, is likely to win quick Senate confirmation. The next days of questioning, though, are sure to be long and grueling. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Expect Kavanaugh to be questioned about all the sizzling legal topics of the day, from abortion and gun control to his expansive view of presidential power and how that might affect the Mueller investigation. Kavanaugh's legal views on abortion rights and his unusually stark views on gun control will undoubtedly be in focus from ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein. At yesterday's hearing, she laid out her concerns about the Supreme Court's 1973 abortion decision Roe v. Wade and what a change in the Supreme Court's position could mean for other privacy rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Roe is one in a series of cases that upheld an individual's right to decide who to marry, where to send your children to school, what kind of medical care you can receive at the end of life, as well as whether and when to have a family.

TOTENBERG: And she singled out gun control as a subject on which Kavanaugh has by his own admission different views from most other lower court judges, including fellow conservatives. At yesterday's hearing, Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed in the Parkland shooting, tried to shake hands with the nominee, but Kavanaugh, for whatever reason, walked away. Kavanaugh's opening statement yesterday was laced with glowing statements about his lobbyist father, his teacher mother, who went to law school and became a prosecutor and then a judge, his wife, who served as secretary to President George W. Bush in the White House, and his two daughters, whose sports teams he's coached. He said the Supreme Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRETT KAVANAUGH: If confirmed by the Supreme Court, I would be part of a team of nine.

TOTENBERG: And he described his 12 years as a federal appeals court judge this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAVANAUGH: I have written more than 300 opinions and handled more than 2,000 cases. I am proud of that body of work. I tell people, don't read about my judicial opinions, read the opinions.

TOTENBERG: Kavanaugh's short statement kept a raucous day of partisan exchanges with Democrats on offense. Indeed, from the moment the hearing began and before Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley could get Kavanaugh's name out of his mouth, California Democrat Kamala Harris was demanding a postponement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK GRASSLEY: Good morning. I welcome everyone to this confirmation hearing on the nomination of Judge...

KAMALA HARRIS: Mr. Chairman?

GRASSLEY: ...Brett Kavanaugh...

HARRIS: Mr. Chairman?

GRASSLEY: ...To serve as associate justice...

HARRIS: Mr. Chairman? I'd like to be recognized for a question before we proceed.

TOTENBERG: Harris said that only 15 hours earlier, the committee had received 42,000 pages of Kavanaugh documents from his time in the Bush White House, leaving no time for senators to examine them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRASSLEY: You're out of order. I'll proceed.

HARRIS: We cannot possibly move forward, Mr. Chairman, with this hearing.

GRASSLEY: I extend a very warm welcome...

TOTENBERG: Pretty soon, every Democrat on the committee was demanding that the hearings be postponed, noting as well that on Friday, the Trump White House invoked an unspecified constitutional privilege to prevent a hundred-thousand more pages of documents from being turned over to the committee. The obviously well-organized spectators chimed in loudly, only to be hauled out of the hearing room one by one, each in turn to be replaced by the next screamer. It was a Supreme Court confirmation hearing the likes of which has not been seen before. Chairman Grassley kept his cool even in the face of this from fellow Republican John Cornyn of Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN CORNYN: This is the first confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court justice I've seen basically according to mob rule.

TOTENBERG: Grassley just kept telling his fellow Republicans that he had learned over the years that patience would prevail. And after a tumultuous morning, it basically did. That, however, did not prevent Democrats from an acid critique. Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATRICK LEAHY: And any claim that this has been a thorough and transparent process is downright Orwellian.

TOTENBERG: But for all the Democrats' thrashing, they are in the minority in the Senate. And barring an unforeseen twist, they have neither the leverage nor the votes to prevail.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.