September 04. 2018 8:44PM

Democrats cry lack of access to documents and seek delay at Kavanaugh confirmation hearing

By SEUNG MIN KIM, ROBERT BARNES, ANN E. MARIMOW and JOHN WAGNER
The Washington Post


U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh looks on during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

WASHINGTON — The confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh launched Tuesday as a bitter political brawl, with loud objections from Democratic senators, the arrests of dozens of protesters and questions even from some Republicans about how Kavanaugh would separate himself from President Trump, the man who chose him.

But GOP senators mostly calmly defended Kavanaugh from what Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the Shakespearean nature of the hearing — “sound and fury, signifying nothing” — confident that there were no defections from the solid Republican support Kavanaugh needs to become the court’s 114th justice.

The 53-year-old judge, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, sat impassively for nearly seven hours of senators’ statements before making brief opening comments. Questioning of him begins Wednesday morning.

“The Supreme Court must never, never be viewed as a partisan institution,” Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The Justices on the Supreme Court do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle. They do not caucus in separate rooms. 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.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s, R-Iowa, opening remarks were delayed for nearly an hour and a half as Democratic senators sought to cut off the confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh, raising an uproar over a last-minute document dump sent to the Judiciary Committee late Monday encompassing more than 42,000 pages from the nominee’s tenure in the George W. Bush White House.

Trump later denounced the revolt by Democrats, tweeting, “The Brett Kavanaugh hearings for the future Justice of the Supreme Court are truly a display of how mean, angry, and despicable the other side is. They will say anything, and are only looking to inflict pain and embarrassment to one of the most highly renowned jurists to ever appear before Congress. So sad to see!”

The specter of Trump himself, who has frequently leveled attacks on the judiciary, loomed large during the hearing’s opening hours as Democrats and even some Republicans raised concerns about the President’s attitude toward institutions and norms.

Two Republican senators — Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Jeff Flake of Arizona — praised Kavanaugh personally and professionally, but also raised questions about Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department and how Kavanaugh would handle cases involving presidential power.

In a tweet on Monday, Trump criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the recent indictments of two Republican members of Congress on corruption charges and for the timing that is so close to House midterm elections — a comment chastised by Sasse and Flake immediately after it was made. The two Republicans repeated their condemnation during Kavanaugh’s hearing.

“That is why a lot of people are concerned about this administration and why they want to ensure that our institutions hold,” Flake said. He added that “many of the questions you will get on the other side of the aisle and from me will” center on separation of powers.

The protesters, who were predominantly women, repeatedly heckled the senators and Kavanaugh as they argued that installing Trump’s second pick to the Supreme Court would irreparably end access to abortion and dismantle the Affordable Care Act. U.S. Capitol Police said they arrested 70 people for disorderly conduct or unlawful demonstration activities.

“What are we trying to hide? Why are we rushing?” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked.

Democrats have charged that documents on Kavanaugh’s career have been withheld without justification, particularly those from his tenure as a Bush staffer. Senators have reviewed nearly 200,000 pages that cannot be disclosed to the public, and the Trump administration is withholding another 100,000 pages from Congress altogether, claiming those documents would be covered by presidential privilege.

Kavanaugh, appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by Bush, served the president in the White House Counsel’s Office from 2001 to 2003 and as staff secretary from 2003 to 2006.

Leahy said there are gaping holes in the record, spanning several years of Kavanaugh’s career in the Bush White House, and that the Senate was abandoning its obligation by not first reviewing those documents before beginning confirmation hearings this week. “It’s not only shameful, it’s a sham,” Leahy said. “This is the most incomplete, most partisan, least transparent vetting for any Supreme Court nominee I have ever seen.”

As tempers got heated Tuesday, Grassley denied the moves from Democrats to adjourn the proceedings, saying he would press on with the hearing and that he expects Kavanaugh to be confirmed.

Democrats continued to insist on a vote on their motions as the hearing veered seriously off track for more than an hour, at which point Grassley resumed reading his opening statement.

Tuesday’s proceedings brought to the surface years of anger over judicial nominees. Democrats invoked the name of Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2016 to fill the Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late justice Antonin Scalia, and denied a hearing by Senate Republicans.

In his remarks, Kavanaugh praised Garland, the chief judge on the appeals court on which they both serve, as “superb” — a line likely to further rile Democrats.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the Democrats’ behavior would lead them to be “held in contempt of court,” prompting a chorus of quiet boos and “oh come on” echoed throughout the hearing room. He later said the hearing had turned into “mob rule.”