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Kavanaugh Senate Judiciary Hearings

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Kavanaugh Senate Judiciary Hearings

Roselind Zeng

On Friday, Sept. 7, the Senate ended their four-day confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in order to determine his eligibility for a seat on the Supreme Court. As President Donald Trump’s nominee, he will be filling the position previously held by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a 30-year member of the bench. The question of Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment is hotly debated, as he would succeed Justice Kennedy as the swing vote for major issues such as abortion and gun rights in the U.S.

Senators prepared a range of questions with the intent to gauge the judge’s standing on current laws, as well as how closely he will abide by the interpretation of the Constitution.

Chairman Charles Grassley opened the hearing by asking Judge Kavanaugh to describe his idea of a good judge; his response was that a good judge should be independent and that he himself is “a pro-law judge and [he has] ruled for parties based on whether they have the law on their side.” To Judge Kavanaugh, a judge should interpret the law, but not change the intended meaning. Meanwhile, a few answers were sidestepped through citing “nominee precedent,” because he reasons, “If I say something and the case comes before me five years from now, I’ll feel morally bound by what I said here.” Senator Orrin Hatch inquired about Kavanaugh’s loyalties to the President if he were to be confirmed. The judge played his cards close to his chest, answering how his loyalties lie with “the Constitution… and the Constitution establishes [him] as an independent judge bound to follow the law as written.”

As expected, the controversial case Roe v. Wade was brought up first by Senator Dianne Feinstein, who requested clarifications on his standing on the issue, as well as his meaning by calling Roe v. Wade “settled law.”  Kavanaugh reaffirmed his belief that the case was an “important precedent of the Supreme Court” that has been broached many times over the years, especially during the Planned Parenthood v. Casey debate in 1992. In response to Feinstein, he conceded that he doesn’t “live in a bubble,” and understands her point of view on women having the right to choose, despite not agreeing with her on the subject. Senator Richard Blumenthal followed up with another question of clarification, this time on Kavanaugh’s use of the phrase “abortion on demand” which hints at the judge’s possibly conservative nature. In defense, Judge Kavanaugh cited Chief Justice Burger, “who wrote a concurrence that specifically said that the court today does not uphold abortion on demand. That’s [Chief Justice Burger’s] phrase… and what that meant… is that reasonable regulations are permissible so long as they don’t constitute an undue burden.”

Yet one of the most resounding issues was related to current events regarding the presidency. Senator Feinstein requested to know how a president should respond to a subpoena, and whether the commander-in-chief is allowed to pardon himself. Here, the Judge’s answer was to evade the question by stating that he “can’t give [her] an answer on that hypothetical question,” and immediately followed with how he would recuse himself from any criminal or civil case related to President Trump. He feels the need to “not make a commitment about how [he] would handle a particular case” and that “the decision to participate in a case is itself a decision to a particular case.” Senator Chris Coons went on to point out Kavanaugh’s previous comments during the Ken Starr investigation in 1998, where he expressed that no one should investigate possible criminal activity of a sitting president, with congressional inquiry taking precedence in a criminal investigation. Judge Kavanaugh rebutted that his comments were misinterpreted, as he had argued in favor of independent counsels. In conclusion, he states, “I have never taken a position on indicting or investigating a sitting president.” Meanwhile, Senator Kamala Harris then attempted to discuss the confidentiality of the Mueller investigation, and whether or not anything had been disclosed with anyone at Kasowitz Benson Torres—the law firm of the President’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz. Judge Kavanaugh was slow on a response, asking over and over for a specific name to refer to. Eventually, the senator backed down, declaring, “it’s a very direct question. I’ll move on. Clearly, you’re not going to answer the question.”

As the discussion was taking place, partisan issues overshadowed the judge’s possible appointment. Democrats are intensely fearful that President Trump will use Kavanaugh as a tool in the judicial system to solidify his power and overturn previous rulings to favor a more conservative view. Meanwhile, Republicans defend Judge Kavanaugh’s rightful position as a justice, highlighting his intelligence and “thoughtful, humble, wonderfully warm [nature and how he is a] fair-minded and independent jurist.” To add fuel to the flames, documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush administration were poorly distributed to senators, some having been withheld entirely, while others were to remain confidential and unusable. In total, some 42,000 documents were released the night before the hearing, leaving no time for proper preparations for questioning.

The dissonance regarding Judge Kavanaugh’s legitimacy was not limited to just senators. The Women’s March, Demand Justice, and other activist groups filed in, hoping to stop Kavanaugh’s ascent to the bench due to his record of holding conservative views. Later, 73 people were arrested, with 66 of them being charges of disorderly conduct, and six of them for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding.” Another was charged with resisting arrest. They had entered the hearing room, which was not barred from the public, in order to voice their concerns over a potential displacement of the balance currently upheld in the Supreme Court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will most likely vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination during the week of Sept. 24. While most Republicans have remained outspoken about their approval of Judge Kavanaugh, many Democrats remain undecided.

UPDATE: Currently, Judge Kavanaugh has also been accused by Palo Alto University Professor Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault when they were both minors. In a letter to Senator Feinstein earlier this year, Professor Ford chose to remain anonymous as she detailed how Kavanaugh had forced himself onto her at a high school party when she was 15-years-old — allegations that Kavanaugh vehemently denies. This controversy has sparked debates on both sides of the spectrum, with some calling into question the validity of Professor Ford’s testimony and why she took so long to speak up, while others ask why Judge Kavanaugh still remains a candidate for Supreme Court Justice after such salacious information has been brought to light.

This has also triggered a massive Republican response, as they hope to have Kavanaugh sworn in onto the bench by Oct. 1, which is the start of the new Supreme Court term. With that, the conservatives would have a majority in the judicial branch, strengthening the Republican presence on Capitol Hill. With the imminent arrival of the midterm elections this coming November, this would determine the influence Republicans will hold in the other two branches of government. Meanwhile, Senator Grassley has issued a statement regarding Professor Ford’s claims, pointing out that it has been “discussed that Dr. Ford wants to share her account with the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s Friday night and nothing’s been agreed to despite [their] efforts… [He will be] providing a notice of a vote to occur Monday in the event that Dr. Ford’s attorneys don’t respond or Dr. Ford decides not to testify… [and they] cannot continue to delay.”

In response, on Sept. 22 Professor Ford’s attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks responded in kind, saying that “Dr. Ford accepts the Committee’s request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct next week.” Ford’s lawyers and a bipartisan group of committee staff have decided on a tentative date of Sept. 27 for her hearing, but there has still been debates on the specific date and who would be questioning Professor Ford.

On Sept. 23, a second woman came forward, alleging that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a college drinking party at Yale. 53-year-old Deborah Ramirez recounts how, in a drunken state, Kavanaugh had walked up and exposed himself to her. Minutes after The New Yorker reported on the story, the White House released a statement denying her claims, refuting that “This 35-year-old uncorroborated claim is the latest in a smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man. White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec continues, stating that “This claim is denied by all who were said to be present and is wholly inconsistent… The White House stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh.”  Senator Grassley also commented that “neither [Ramirez] nor her legal representative have contacted the chairman’s office. The article reports that Democratic staff were aware of these allegations, but they never informed Republican staff.” This incident, as well as Mrs. Ford’s, have compounded to result in several GOP senators expressing their concerns and possibly revoking their support for Judge Kavanaugh.

On Sept. 29, a third woman came forward, announcing through her lawyer Michael Avenatti that she had witnessed Judge Kavanaugh participating in harassment against other attendees at college parties. The woman, Julie Swetnick, says that she “witnessed efforts by Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh and others to cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be [assaulted] in a side room or bedroom by a ‘train’ of numerous boys.” She then goes on to add that in 1982, she became a victim of this behavior, and that “There is no question in my mind that Mark Judge has significant information concerning the conduct of Brett Kavanaugh during the 1980s, especially as it relates to his actions towards women.”

Photo courtesy of NYTIMES.COM

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Kavanaugh Senate Judiciary Hearings