Columns

Senate Dems, GOP at Odds Over How Much Kavanaugh Research Is Too Much

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh visits Capitol Hill on July 30, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — While the House has left for a five-week summer break, the Senate has stayed in town to work on unfinished business — including the pending Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

Senate Democrats contend that Republicans are trying to conceal documents about Kavanaugh’s career, which stretches back into the Ken Starr investigation, his three years as staff secretary in the George W. Bush White House, and his appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“The American people deserve to see Brett Kavanaugh’s full record,” tweeted Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “They’re the ones who will be affected for generations if he’s confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. Brett Kavanaugh’s entire record must be made public.”

Republicans say that the request for millions of documents is a stall tactic intended to derail Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) goal of having a new justice seated by Oct. 1.

Feinstein and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a questionnaire to Kavanaugh on July 13, which he completed and returned a week later.

“In his 12-plus years on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh has authored more than 300 opinions and joined hundreds of others, all of which are publicly available,” Grassley said at the time. “Additionally, Judge Kavanaugh’s public record includes dozens of speeches and writings. These voluminous materials will provide us a very good understanding of Judge Kavanaugh’s qualifications and legal thinking – including how Judge Kavanaugh goes about finding, interpreting, and applying the law.”

Last week, Grassley requested documents on Kavanaugh in a letter to National Archives staff at the George W. Bush Presidential Library — but did so without Feinstein, saying she was offering “unprecedented and unreasonable counter-proposals.”

“They demanded that we expand the request to require a search of every email from every one of the hundreds of White House staffers who served alongside Judge Kavanaugh for nearly six years, to find records that merely mention his name,” Grassley said Friday, adding he expects the production of documents he seeks to still “be the largest ever in the Senate’s consideration of a Supreme Court nominee.”

“I am not going to put the American taxpayers on the hook for the Senate Democrats’ fishing expedition,” he said.

Feinstein said Monday that Republicans are arguing there are just too many documents to look at from Kavanaugh’s White House years “and we don’t need to see White House menus, travel itineraries or press clippings.”

“They’re right; we don’t need those documents. What we do need is access to documents that show Kavanaugh’s views on and involvement in important issues like torture, the Enron task force, healthcare and presidential signing statements. Those are issues that Kavanaugh himself said he worked on and are essential to understanding his record,” she said. “We are asking for no more and no less than what was provided to the Senate for the Elena Kagan nomination. It was possible then and it should be possible now. The minority party shouldn’t be precluded from document requests.”

Feinstein added that “Democrats don’t want to waste time reviewing superfluous material that only crossed Kavanaugh’s desk,” but “what we do want to know are Kavanaugh’s involvement and views on key issues.”

On the Senate floor today, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the records reticence is “such a break from precedent that you have to wonder: what are the Republicans hiding about Judge Kavanaugh’s record?”

In every way but the nominee’s name, he said, the Dems’ records request “is identical to the request that Democrats and Republicans made for Justice Kagan – that Republicans insisted on when she was nominated by President Obama.” Kagan was a domestic policy advisor in the Clinton White House and solicitor general under Obama.

“Judge Kavanaugh himself has said that his time as staff secretary was ‘especially useful’ to him as a judge and that his time in the White House made him ‘a better interpreter of statutes,'” Schumer added. “I hope that the National Archives will understand the dilemma we are in – the unusual circumstance we are in. And, ultimately, I hope my Republican colleagues will understand. And that both the Archives, either on its own, or with Republicans acquiescence, will make the right decision in the interest of transparency, consistency, and fairness. To do otherwise is to forsake the Senate’s constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on this surpassingly important nomination.”

Kavanaugh has continued making the rounds to meet with senators; Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) declared Monday that he wouldn’t be a fence-sitter on the nomination.

Paul said in a statement that despite his misgivings on privacy cases, he has “hope” that Kavanaugh “will be more open to a Fourth Amendment that protects digital records and property.”

“I believe he will carefully adhere to the Constitution and will take his job to protect individual liberty seriously,” Paul said. “…Judge Kavanaugh will have my support and my vote to confirm him to the Supreme Court.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said after his meeting with Kavanaugh that he’s undecided.

“I have a constitutional responsibility to advise and consent on a nominee to fill Supreme Court vacancies and I take that responsibility seriously. I think it’s irresponsible to announce your position minutes after the nominee is announced,” Manchin said in a Monday statement. “I will not make a final decision on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination until I complete a thorough and fair examination of his candidacy in order to decide whether he should hold the position of Associate Justice on the highest court in the land, just as I did with Neil Gorsuch.”