Partisan Divide Peaks in Kavanaugh Hearings
Tensions flared on Capitol Hill this week as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh seeks confirmation from the Senate.
Brett Kavanaugh, 53, was appointed by President Donald Trump earlier this year in July to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Often considered a swing vote on issues such as abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, Justice Kennedy’s announcement sent shockwaves across the country. With 12 years of serving on D.C Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh’s consistent pro-life and pro-business track record would help solidify the Supreme Court with a conservative majority if confirmed.
Heading into the Senate confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh would need 51 votes to secure his spot into the Court. With Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) passing earlier this month, Republicans would need support from a few of their Democratic colleagues to confirm the nominee. Democratic senators from competitive battleground state in the midterms, including Joe Donnelly (D-ND), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-MN), have been feeling pressured by constituents to support Kavanaugh.
On the Republican line, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have also expressed their uncertainty over the nominee. Both senators had expressed concerns over the fate of the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade if Kavanaugh were to have a seat on the bench. Despite Kavanaugh claiming that Roe was “settled law,” Collins has remained cautious, saying, “I intend to review Judge Kavanaugh’s decisions on the bench and writings off the bench.”
With the stakes high for both parties, it became no surprise that Democrats headed into the hearings prepared to resist Kavanaugh. Within minutes after Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) started the session Tuesday, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) interrupted Grassley, prompting protestors to get out of their seats.
Throughout the week, activists from both sides of the isle frequently intervened in the hearing process, causing debate between Kavanaugh and members of the Senate Judiciary committee to be delayed. Groups from gun control organizations, labor unions, and abortion rights groups protested, with one individual shouting, “You’re making a mockery of democracy” before being escorted by Capitol Police officers.
Harris would later engage in a critical exchange with Kavanaugh on his stance with Planned Parenthood and abortion. With the nominee already providing indirect responses with regards to Roe, Harris would later question Kavanaugh if he had knowledge of any laws “that the government has power to make over the male body.” After some hesitance, Kavanaugh ultimately responded, “I’m not aware of any right now.”
Scrutiny continued when Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) demanded that controversial emails and paperwork from Judge Kavanaugh withholden by the White House be released to the public. Documents stamped as “committee confidential” detailed a Democratic strategy for opposing a judicial nomination. Despite threats from fellow committee member John Cornyn (R-TX) to expel him , Booker insisted, “The public – and the Senators whose responsibility it is to vet this nominee – have the right to know where Judge Kavanaugh stands on important issues of law and justice.”
Perhaps the most room for contestation came with the issue of whether or not the president has the ability to pardon himself. Kavanaugh had previously expressed in a 2009 op-ed that a president should be exempt from “time-consuming and distracting lawsuits and investigations.” With senators confronting Kavanaugh on the topic throughout the week, the nominee largely avoided addressing the issue head on, but responded, “nobody is above the law.”
Despite days of intense debate amongst Republican and Democratic members of the Judiciary committee and the nominee, it is likely that Kavanaugh will be confirmed. Before a final vote takes place on the last week of September, senators will have the opportunity to send questions to Kavanaugh for review.