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Kavanaugh Witnesses Frame Upcoming Confirmation Debate

As Senate starts home stretch toward confirmation vote, divergent portrait painted

Jackson Corbin testifies about his reliance on affordable healthcare on the fourth day of Brett Kavanaugh's hearing before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building Friday Sept. 7, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Jackson Corbin testifies about his reliance on affordable healthcare on the fourth day of Brett Kavanaugh's hearing before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building Friday Sept. 7, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

As the Senate continues its processing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, it does so in the shadow of the last day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing, with strikingly different depictions of the appeals court judge on display.

Democrats brought a series of emotional witnesses to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday to sound more warnings about what Kavanaugh would mean for the country’s legal landscape, while witnesses invited by Republicans gave straightforward descriptions of an appeals court judge with the credentials to join the high court.

The messages reflect what senators are likely to argue as the Senate considers his confirmation in the next few weeks.

On the last day of what had been a contentious four-day confirmation hearing, 13-year-old Jackson Corbin of Pennsylvania described the genetic condition he and his brother have. He told the senators that to afford their care they need justices on the Supreme Court who will save the 2010 health care law and its provisions on pre-existing conditions.

“The decisions you are making today will affect my generation’s ability to have access to affordable health care,” Corbin said.

And Aalayah Eastmond, a senior at a Parkland, Fla., high school where a shooter killed 17 people in February, described how she shielded herself with the lifeless body of another student during the shooting, and how the incident still affects her. Eastmond, like committee Democrats, say Kavanaugh’s past decisions indicate he would strike down gun control laws.

“As you make your final decision, think about it as if you had to justify and defend your choice to those who we lost to gun violence,” Eastmond told the senators.

The testimony that also touched on environmental concerns, abortion access, the rights of disabled adults and contraception underscored the sharp partisan divide over the nomination of Kavanaugh, who has been a reliably conservative judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Those divisions were revealed during a four-day confirmation hearing often peppered with protests from both Democratic committee members and the audience.

Kavanaugh appears on track to win confirmation. The committee expects to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Sept. 20, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., restated Friday that he expected to hold a confirmation vote before Oct. 1. The 51-49 advantage for Republicans in the Senate means Democrats would need help to stop the nomination.

Among those who praised Kavanaugh on Friday were the American Bar Association evaluators, who said they “would have been hard pressed to come to any other conclusion” than to give Kavanaugh their highest rating, unanimously well-qualified.

Theodore Olson, a top appellate litigator who has known Kavanaugh for two decades and argued in front of Kavanaugh as well as 20 different Supreme Court justices, said lawyers and Americans can’t expect justices to always agree with positions they prefer.

“But we can aspire to a judiciary that will be prepared, perceptive, competent, open-minded, honest and respectful. That is the jurist that is Brett Kavanaugh,” Olson said. “He is the kind of person and judge that we expect and deserve on the Supreme Court.”

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, D-La., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told the committee that Kavanaugh’s approach to the law would endanger voting rights, affirmative action, abortion access, criminal law and health care.

Richmond said Kavanaugh questions key legal precedents that have benefited the black community, and his confirmation would “fortify a generation of destructive conservative ideology at a time when several historically significant legal challenges will come before the high court.”

Akhil Reed Amar, a constitutional law professor at Yale University, testified that Kavanaugh was “unquestionably” qualified and gave Democrats a warning of his own when it came to the confirmation fight in the weeks ahead.

“Distinguished Democrats: Don’t be mad; be smart, and be careful what you wish for,” Amar said. “Our party controls neither the White House nor the Senate. If you torpedo Kavanaugh, you’ll likely end up with someone worse — less brilliant, less constitutionally knowledgeable, less studious, less open-minded, less good for America.”

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