Trump Supreme Court Nominee: An Umpire in Deciding Cases
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is set to tell the Senate he would be an unbiased referee in deciding cases as his contentious confirmation hearings start Tuesday.
In advance text of his opening remarks released by the White House, Kavanaugh says, " A good judge must be an umpire—a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy."
Kavanaugh, nominated by President Donald Trump, declares, "I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences. I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge."
Íf confirmed by the Senate, the 53-year-old appellate court judge would replace the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate conservative who was a swing vote on the court, siding with its four liberals in key 5-4 rulings upholding abortion and gay rights and affirmative action to increase university admissions for racial minorities. But independent court analysts believe Kavanaugh's rulings on the federal appeals court in Washington indicate he would tilt the high court's ideological balance toward conservative rulings for years to come.
Kavanaugh is expected to face tough questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially from Democratic lawmakers, on how he would decide new abortion and gay rights legal challenges, as well as the extent of the power of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the criminal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But Kavanaugh appears headed toward eventual confirmation by the full Senate. Republicans hold a 50-49 edge in the chamber, soon to increase to 51-49 when a Republican is named to replace the late Senator John McCain. No Republican has said they will vote against Kavanaugh, nor has any Democrat said they will vote for him, although a handful of Democratic lawmakers might eventually support his confirmation.
In the prepared remarks, Kavanaugh says, "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. I would always strive to be a team player on the Team of Nine."
He praised Kennedy, for whom he once served as a law clerk.
"To me, Justice Kennedy is a mentor, a friend, and a hero," Kavanaugh said. "As a member of the court, he was a model of civility and collegiality. He fiercely defended the independence of the judiciary. And he was a champion of liberty."
Democrats raise concerns
In the lead-up to the hearings, Democratic lawmakers complained that the Trump White House was stifling their demand for release of hundreds of thousands of pages of Kavanaugh-related documents from his years working at the White House as a staff secretary under Republican President George W. Bush in the early 2000s, material they want to use as a basis to question Kavanaugh.
"I've never had a (Supreme Court confirmation) hearing where documents are so hard to get," Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California told reporters. The White turned over 42,000 pages Monday night, but Feinstein said, "Obviously no one has been able to look at them yet."
The Judiciary Committee has received 415,000 pages of documents about the Supreme Court nominee's time in the Bush White House, of which 147,000 are being withheld from public release. In addition, Trump officials said they would not release 101,921 pages of Kavanaugh-related records to the panel because of the sensitivity of the communications, before relenting on the 42,000 pages.
The proceedings are starting with Kavanaugh's opening statement and remarks by committee members.
On Wednesday, Kavanaugh is due to face direct questioning on a range of issues, including his stance on abortion, gay rights and presidential powers. Recent Supreme Court nominees have refused to say how they would rule in specific cases, but, under questioning, have discussed their judicial philosophy, giving a hint of how they would rule on controversial issues.
White House push
The White House is hoping the full Senate will confirm Kavanaugh this month, in time for him to fill the vacancy left by Kennedy's retirement when the court opens a new term on October 1.
However, Democrats have vowed to fight Kavanaugh’s nomination from the start, fearing his lifetime appointment could ensure a strongly conservative court for a generation.
Democrats will likely try to portray Kavanaugh as someone too tied to Trump and who will push a conservative agenda on the high court. Republicans are expected to try to paint the nominee as an independent thinker and a principled jurist.
One of the main issues Kavanaugh will be questioned on is the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case, which gave women the right to have an abortion.
Kavanaugh, who has championed pro-life views, has not said whether he believes the case was decided correctly, and he is not likely to do so during the hearings.
Another key issue at the hearings will be Kavanaugh’s views on executive authority. Kavanaugh has argued that presidents should be free from civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions and investigations while in office. His view was shaped by his own involvement with a presidential investigation when he worked for independent counsel Ken Starr in his investigation of President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.
The matter could be significant to Trump if the high court is called upon to render judgment on matters arising from special counsel Mueller's ongoing Russia-related investigation into the Trump administration and several civil lawsuits pending against Trump.
Kavanaugh will also likely face tough questioning on environmental controls, affirmative action, and the conflict between religious beliefs and gay rights.
Randy Barnett, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University, told VOA it will not be clear exactly how Kavanaugh would rule on certain issues, and that he thinks it is right to not have those positions spelled out in advance.
"This is exactly the reason why judges don't talk about how they're going to rule on cases because until the case is in front of them and been argued by both sides, they may not know how they're going to rule," he said. "We don't want judges in their confirmation hearings to commit themselves in such a way as they will then be disqualified from actually ruling impartially when the case comes before them."
Kavanaugh's record of court opinions shows he is a conservative thinker opposed to abortion and supportive of corporations against government regulation. He is a Catholic who has the backing of evangelical Christian groups.