WASHINGTON – A Senate confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh got off to a raucous start on Tuesday as Democrats sought to halt the proceeding until it receives additional documents about his time as a legal adviser to former President George W. Bush.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut played a starring role in the Democrat’s efforts to delay the hearing – calling several times for the committee to adjourn the hearing.
“We have been denied real access to the documents we need to advise and consent, which turns this hearing into a charade and a mockery of our norms,” Blumenthal told Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa. “I therefore move to adjourn this hearing.”
Grassley declined to consider the request saying that such motions, requests for roll call votes and efforts to appeal the chairman’s ruling do not apply during committee hearings.
The hearing, which began with opening statements from committee members, is expected to continue through the week. It was also interrupted on numerous occasions by protesters in the public audience.
Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, was nominated in July to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. He has the endorsement of the Federalist Society, which favors a conservative judiciary.
Blumenthal, joined by other committee Democrats, complained that they needed more time to obtain and review documents that have been requested to complete their review of Kavanaugh. The Trump administration last week cited executive privilege in order to shield more than 100,000 pages of records from his time in the council office.
“This is not an attempt to delay,” New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said. “This is an attempt to be fully equipped to do our Constitutional duty, which everybody – Republicans and Democrats on this committee – take seriously. It is very hard to perform our role of advise and consent when we do not have a thorough vetting of the background of the candidate in areas which he, the candidate himself, has referred to as the most formative part of his legal career.”
Democrats also complained that 42,000 pages of documents were made available Monday night, hours before the hearing opened – leaving them no time to actually read them.
They also said many of the documents were classified as “committee confidential,” preventing their public release and likely stopping Democrats from citing them during the hearing. Grassley pointed out that committee members had the opportunity to request specific documents be declassified but only Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar did so – and her request was obliged.
Grassley and other Republican committee members defended moving forward with the confirmation hearing saying that an unprecedented number of documents had been obtained by the committee to allow them to determine if Kavanaugh is well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.
The Republicans also complained that Democrats were disingenuous in seeking more documents since they have already decided to oppose Trump’s nominee.
“The Democrats are focused on procedural issues because they don’t have substantive points strong enough to derail this nomination,” said Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. “They don’t have substantive criticism with Judge Kavanaugh’s actual judicial record, so they’re trying to divert everyone with procedural issues.”
Cruz noted that Kavanaugh produced more than 500,000 pages of documents, including more than 17,000 in direct response to the committee’s questionnaire. The documents not received from the White House, he said, would not add any substantial guidance on the type of justice Kavanaugh.
After his initial rebuke, Blumenthal spoke up again seeking a roll call vote on his motion to adjourn under the committee’s “Rule 4” that spells out that such motions shall be subject to a vote.
“These are rules that we are obligated to follow. The chairman has no right, with all due respect, to simply override them by fiat,” Blumenthal said.
Grassley again said that the rules do not apply during a committee hearing.
Blumenthal again sought a vote on his motion when his turn came to make an opening statement. His request was again denied. He then asked Kavanaugh to request a delay so that documents requested by him and other Democrats can be obtained.
“If you are confirmed after this truncated and concealed process there will always be a taint. There will always be an asterisk after your name – appointed by a President named as unindicted coconspirator and after a vast majority of documents most relevant were concealed,” Blumenthal said. “The power of the Supreme Court depends, not on armies, but credibility. I ask you to uphold that by asking this committee to suspend this hearing and come back when we have full information.”
Kavanaugh sat at a table below the senators in silence through the morning and afternoon statements. His opening remarks were to follow remarks from a panel of supporters that included former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.