Politics

Kavanaugh Will Stress Independence of Judicial Branch in Hearing

Feinstein says Republicans refusing to examine nominee’s full record in ‘rushed’ confirmation

President Donald Trump nominates Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy at the White House in July. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will tell senators Tuesday he believes in the “independence” of the judicial branch and, if confirmed, he would act as “umpire ... who favors no litigant or policy.”

A good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” he will tell the Senate Juidiciary Committee as his confirmation hearing begins. “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.”

The sitting U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit judge will describe the high court as “part of a ‘team of nine’” that is “committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

If confirmed by the full Senate, he will say, “I would always strive to be a team player on the 'team of nine.'”

[John Dean Among the Witnesses at Brett Kavanaugh Hearing]

President Donald Trump nominated the federal judge to replace retiring swing-voting Justice Anthony Kennedy. In excerpts from prepared remarks for Tuesday’s hearing, Kavanaugh calls Kennedy “a mentor, a friend, and a hero.” He also lauds Kennedy as a justice who has “fiercely defended the independence of the Judiciary.”

The latter matter will be among the top issues Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee as Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing begins.

Some Democrats worry Kavanaugh will take orders from the Trump White House, and are concerned his previous stances on presidents being largely immune from legal troubles were a big reason why the embattled Trump selected him.

Kavanuagh’s confirmation hearing is expected to last several days, but Democrats have no executable strategy to block him soon joining the Supreme Court. Judiciary Committee member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., over the weekend predicted the nominee likely will get up to 55 votes on the Senate floor — he needs only 51.

During the Judiciary hearing, Democratic senators are expected to press — and try to trip up — Kavanaugh on hot-button issues like abortion rights, the criminal investigations related to Trump and some top associates, health care and more. Democrats are objecting to many of the nominee’s apparent policy stances and the White House’s refusal to turn over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from Kavanaugh’s time working in the George W. Bush White House.

Ahead of the hearings, Democratic members of the committee, led by ranking member Dianne Feinstein, stood outside the Supreme Court to announce opposition to the hearings going forward, though they will not be boycotting them.

“We will attend the meetings, we question assiduously, but we want to express our concerns,” Feinstein said. “I’ve never had a hearing like this where documents are so difficult to get.”

“The majority rushed into this hearing, and is refusing to even look at the nominee’s full records,” the California Democrat said.

Feinstein was especially critical of the decision by the White House to withhold documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House counsel’s office, apparently without formal claims of executive privilege.

For Democrats on the Judiciary panel, their audience this week is moderate senators in both parties, aiming to plant enough doubt that they block the nomination once it hits the floor.

“If the American people understand better what’s at stake, it will help determine whether they contact their senators and tell them to vote ‘no,’” said Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic Judiciary Committee member. “There are just so many consequences potentially from this appointment.”

In a nod to the committee’s Democratic members, Kavanaugh will call Merrick Garland, the chief justice on the D.C. Circuit court, “a friend” and “our superb chief judge,” according to his prepared remarks.

Garland was nominated by outgoing President Barack Obama, but his nomination never moved beyond a Rose Garden announcement and courtesy meetings with senators after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared voters should first decide which party would control the White House before a vacancy created by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia was filled.

— Niels Lesniewski and Todd Ruger contributed to this report.Watch: Singing Their Support for High Court Nominee Kavanaugh

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