Brett Kavanaugh Says His Loyalty Is To Constitution, Not President At Confirmation Hearing
Following a day of delays brought on by Senate Democrats, Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing to be the next Supreme Court justice continues for day two before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Tuesday, Democrats slammed the confirmation process as a whole, citing lack of access to thousands of documents pertaining to Kavanaugh's record in the courts. Last week, the White House said it would not be releasing 100,000 records from Kavanaugh's time in the Bush White House on the basis of presidential privilege.
While Republicans are looking for a swift process, Democrats slammed their colleagues during the day-long proceedings as pandering to the president, raising questions if there's something to hide within Kavanaugh's record.
During Wednesday's sessions, Kavanaugh will face a grilling by Senate lawmakers with 30-minute rounds of questioning, followed by 20 minute-long rounds.
Kavanaugh won't answer questions on pardons
Asked if the president has the authority to pardon himself, Kavanaugh said that the issue of self pardons is "something I've never analyzed...or written about." calling it a "hypothetical question that I can't begin to answer in this context as a sitting judge and nominee."
Leahy, Grassley and Kavanaugh get in spat over emails
Over the course of Sen. Pat Leahy's questioning, the Democrat pressed Kavanaugh over confidential emails that suggested Kavanaugh might have been more involved in a scandal stemming from a hacking of Senate Democrats' emails than he originally led on, including from Leahy's office, during his time in the Bush White House.
Leahy suggested Kavanaugh had misled the Senate during separate hearings back in 2004 and 2006 on the matter, saying that "Truthfulness under oath is not an optional qualification for a Supreme Court nominee."
Kavanaugh later told Sen. Lindsey Graham that he never knowingly stole emails or documents from Sen. Leahy's office.
Kavanaugh pressed on environmental rulings
"I am not a skeptic of regulation," Kavanaugh said. "I am a skeptic of unauthorized regulation."
The judge, who has raised concerns amongst activists over how he might sway the court's favor in future rulings on environmental-based cases, defended his background as saying in some cases he's ruled against environmental interests, and many other for environmental interests. Kavanaugh cited rulings involving the American Trucking Association and stricter air quality standards as cases where he sided with environmental interests.
Kavanaugh on empowering women in courts
Kavanaugh said that there's a pipeline problem for women gaining access to jobs within the judicial system.
"What it takes is just not accepting the same-old answer," he said. "I try to figure out why, and then do something about it."
When pressed on prominent appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski, who resigned after more than a dozen women alleged he subjected them to inappropriate sexual conductand harassment, Kavanaugh called the reports a "gut punch."
"It was a gut punch to me. It was a gut punch to the judiciary. I was shocked and disappointed. Angry. No woman should be subject to sexual harassment in the workplace."
Kavanaugh denied that he was ever aware of the allegations against Kozinksi, saying he only learned about them through initial news reports.
Kavanaugh says loyalty is to Constitution, not president
Asked what assurances he could give that he would not allow the president's personal views or interests to sway his views on the court, Kavanaugh said that he is an "independent judge" and if confirmed, he will base his decisions on the Constitution and precedent "without fear or favor, independently without pressure from any quarter."
"The person with the best arguments on the law is the person that will win with me," he added.
Pressed on if what loyalty he owes to the president, Kavanaugh said, holding up a worn, personal copy of the legal document, "if confirmed to the Supreme Court and as a sitting judge, I owe my loyalty to the Constitution."
Kavanaugh won't answer if sitting president can be subpoenaed
Feinstein: "Can a sitting president have to respond to a subpoena?"
Kavanaugh: "As a sitting judge and a nominee ... I can't give you an answer to a hypothetical."
Kavanaugh provides no clear answers on Roe v. Wade
Without explicitly saying where he stands on the issue, Kavanaugh, in his questioning with Feinstein, said that he understands the "importance of precedence" in the decision of Roe v. Wade.
He reaffirmed his view is that the case is "settled precedent of the Supreme Court" and it has "been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years."
Kavanaugh said that while he understands the importance of the issue, he doesn't "live in a bubble" on the debate over women's reproductive rights.
On a woman's right to choose, Kavanaugh again said his view "as a judge, it is important precedent of the Supreme Court."
Feinstein, Kavanaugh spar over assault weapons
Asked by Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein what led to his view that an assault weapons ban such as the one in Washington, DC is considered "unconstitutional", Kavanaugh said he was simply following precedent from the Supreme Court "whether he agreed with it or not."
"The way I understood was that dangerous and unusual weapons could be prohibited," explained Kavanaugh. He argued that assault weapons are widely used and possessed in the U.S.
"The question is are they a danger and unusual," he added.
Kavanaugh: "No one is above the law"
No one is above the law in our constitutional system," said Kavanaugh when asked about his position on judicial independence and the separation of powers among the three branches of government.
"The executive branch is subject to the law, that's an important part of the constitutional structure," he added. Kavanaugh said resisting public pressures, political pressure and treating everyone equally no matter their race, gender, station in life or position in the federal government is vital to ensuring equal justice under the law.
"I'm a pro-law judge...If you walk into my courtroom and you have the better legal arguments, you will win"
Kavanaugh said there have been a "slew of cases" where he has ruled against the administration that appointed him. Asked if he had been asked to give assurances about the way he would rule in certain cases, Kavanaugh replied: "No."
Kavanaugh says "independence" makes a good judge
In his very first question of the hearing, Kavanaugh said that the quality of a good judge is independence from political pressures or other entities. He said that not being swayed by outside politics takes "back bone." He added that judges are "constitutionally dictated to heed the rules of precedent ."
As for human qualities, Kavanaugh said he would be congenial with his fellow justices on the high court. He said that "unanimity of decisions" adds force to the court's rulings.
Kavanaugh agreed with Grassley when pressed on not giving forecasts or previews on how he might rule on a given case or specific precedent he might favor.
"One of the things that I have to remember sitting in this seat that this moment is a moment of judicial independence with how I interact with this committee," he said. Kavanaugh said following "nominee precedent" of prior justices not tipping their hat on how they would serve on the court is "critical" to an impartial confirmation process.
"I must adhere to my job which is not to advance my own interests, I'm a representative of the judiciary as a whole and I have a responsibility to judicial independence right here right now as a nominee."
Day two begins with questions
Just after 9:30 a.m. Grassley began the proceedings into questioning Kavanaugh.
What to expect for day two
Kavanaugh is likely to face intense grilling from senate lawmakers during the question and answer portion of the confirmation hearing. Here's a look at what to expect on day two:
Democrats pushing for delay
Democrats are likely to deploy a similar coordinated strategy they used on day one of the hearing by interrupting the start of the hearing to call for delays in the proceedings until senators get access to all of Kavanaugh's documents.
Democrats including Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris all devoted over an hour of hearing time appealing to Chairman Chuck Grassley to adjourn the hearing until Democrats could thoroughly go over the records. Grassley, after being called out for conducting the hearing with "mob rule", repeatedly slammed the Democrats as being out of order.
How exactly Kavanaugh views abortion access is still murky at best. He has approved some restrictions on abortion, such as for an underage undocumented immigrant who wanted one. But he also gives much weight to precedent. After meeting with Kavanaugh last month, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Kavanaugh assured her that he views Roe v. Wade as "settled law."
Executive privilege and power
Perhaps the key issue for Kavanaugh will be his loyalty to President Trump and whether or not he believes a sitting president can be indicted in light of the ongoing Russia probe which so far has led to two guilty convictions for former Trump campaign associates.
In 2009, Kavanaugh seemed to suggest that presidents should be immune from criminal prosecutions and investigations until after leaving office, writing, "I believe it vital that the president be able to focus on his never-ending tasks with as few distractions as possible."