Hearings begin for a Supreme Court nominee even as much of his record remains hidden.
Will the Senate advise and consent, or rubber stamp?
For all appearances, Brett Kavanaugh is headed for confirmation as a Supreme Court justice. But that is no reason for Democrats to allow such a reactionary nominee to sail through without a fight — not only in the Senate, but in the court of public opinion.
Republicans have the barest majority — 51 seats — but it would be enough to assure Judge Kavanaugh the nomination.
No doubt he will do what nominees before him have done for decades — dodge questions about his thinking on legal issues, and do his best to perpetuate the fiction that he is just a faithful interpreter of the law who will not apply his personal, political and ideological views to his decisions.
Which is, of course, nonsense. There is every indication — starting with President Donald Trump’s statements that he would nominate anti-abortion, pro-gun justices — that Judge Kavanaugh would engage in judicial activism, just a brand more appealing to conservatives. And there’s every indication Mr. Trump chose him specifically to shield himself from being questioned or prosecuted in the scandals swirling around him.
Not that he’ll admit it, much less promise to recuse himself from such matters, as he should. That means senators will likely hear the kind of platitudes and nonanswers they’ve come to accept over the years — that he’s a “pro-law” judge, that it would be inappropriate to offer an opinion on matters that might come before the court, that he greatly respects precedent. As for his thoughts on women’s rights, gun control, health care, worker and consumer rights, corporate power, campaign finance, and anything else — no comment.
Even those inclined to support Judge Kavanaugh should be concerned about how this nomination is proceeding. Hundreds of thousands of documents from his days as a White House counsel have been withheld. Hours before the hearings began Tuesday, 42,000 pages were cynically dumped on the Senate.
The one brake on unchecked one-party rule — the filibuster — is gone, thanks to the erosion of the norms for which the Senate was once known as the world’s greatest deliberative body. Republicans have weaponized their majority, first to block any consideration of even a moderate nominee from President Barack Obama, and now to railroad through President Trump’s ultra-conservative picks.
The best Democrats can do is object, loudly and often, which they began doing Tuesday in demanding the hearings be adjourned until the nominee’s record can be fully reviewed. They must make clear to the American people this is not merely a partisan spat, but a precedent of its own in the deterioration of a representative republic. They must make the case that due process and deliberation are essential if the Senate takes seriously its constitutional duty.
It’s an argument Americans need to hear — and one they should press Republicans to heed or face a judgment of their own come November.
The Times Union