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Kavanaugh Set to Advance Amid Democratic Objections

Supreme Court nominee mostly evasive in follow-up answers to Judiciary panel

Brett Kavanaugh, nominee to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, is on track for a Judiciary Committee vote next week. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Brett Kavanaugh, nominee to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, is on track for a Judiciary Committee vote next week. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to hold a committee vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh at a specific time, 1:45 p.m., on Sept. 20. The vote was 11-10 along party lines over the objections of committee Democrats who said it would prematurely cut off debate.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee still had a lot of questions for Kavanaugh after last week’s confirmation hearing — they asked more than 1,200 written follow-up queries. But the nominee didn’t provide many revealing answers late Wednesday when he turned in 263 pages of responses in which he tried to provide more thoughts on one of the more dramatic moments of his confirmation hearing, brush aside questions about his finances, and clean up answers about abortion, his independence from political pressure and other topics.

But Kavanaugh appeared most keen to avoid any missteps that might jeopardize his solid support among Republicans. He did little to assuage concerns from Democrats about what they contend are inaccurate or false statements and remained elusive on many of the most contentious questions.

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets Thursday with Kavanaugh’s name on the agenda, setting up a committee vote Sept. 20. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he will set up a final confirmation vote before the end of the month, and Kavanaugh appears to have enough support.

In the responses, Kavanaugh declined to give detailed answers on topic after topic, saying either that the issue might come before him as a justice and he didn’t want to give a hint, or that he didn’t recall all the matters that crossed his desk when working in the White House as a lawyer and staff secretary during the George W. Bush administration.

That included questions about the Second Amendment, the Emoluments Clause, his views on LGBTQ rights, whether he worked on a partial-birth abortion ban or warrantless surveillance, his views on child immigrants, what he thinks of solitary confinement, and whether a foreign national living in the United States has a First Amendment right to make expenditures on issue advertisements.

Take this non-direct answer to a question from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., on whether he “personally” believes that Nazis, Nazi sympathizers or white nationalists are “fine people.”

“There is no place in American public life for vile ideologies of hate,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Kavanaugh also sidestepped another chance to make a comment about Trump’s rhetoric about the courts. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked Kavanaugh if he agrees with Justice Neil Gorsuch, who told senators during confirmation hearings in 2017 “that personal attacks on federal judges from officials in the other branches of government are ‘demoralizing.’”

“As I stated at the hearing, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on something a politician has said, or to be drawn into political controversy,” Kavanaugh replied. “As I further stated during the hearing, judges stay out of commenting on current events because doing so risks confusion about the role of the judge, which is to decide cases, not to comment on current events as pundits.”

Kavanaugh had more to say Wednesday about the moment he did not shake the hand of a Florida man whose daughter died this year in a school shooting — caught in a black and white photo that sped around social media — that made for one of the most dramatic moments of his confirmation hearings last week.

Kavanaugh described a “chaotic morning” with protesters in the noisy and crowded hearing room. He said he did not realize that the man who touched his arm was Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February and a guest of committee ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

“Mr. Guttenberg has suffered an incalculable loss,” Kavanaugh wrote. “If I had known who he was, I would have shaken his hand, talked to him, and expressed my sympathy. And I would have listened to him.”

That differed from his response at the hearing. Kavanaugh, when given a chance to say something to Guttenberg during questioning at the hearing, told senators that he understands “the real-world effects of our decisions” and he has “not lived in a bubble.”

Feinstein asked Kavanaugh about a 2003 email in which he described the views of legal scholars on Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that first established a constitutional right to abortion that Democrats fear Kavanaugh will vote to strike down. Did he express any personal view in that email on whether Roe v. Wade was “settled law?”

“That email commented on the views of legal scholars,” Kavanaugh said. “It did not describe my own views.”

One of his longer responses was to questions from Whitehouse about his finances, his reported debts about season ticket purchases for professional baseball and whether he had gambling debts.

“I have not had gambling debts or participated in ‘fantasy’ leagues,” Kavanaugh wrote.

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