Senators to Renew Debate on Court Nominee
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Senate Democrats today will try to make the case that Brett M. Kavanaugh is too much a conservative activist to deserve a federal appellate judgeship. In the process, they may experience some unsettling flashbacks to the Supreme Court confirmation of John G. Roberts Jr. -- a big success for President Bush and Senate Republicans.
Like Roberts, Kavanaugh, 41, has spent most of his professional life in the service of conservative causes and bosses. Now White House staff secretary, Kavanaugh was deeply involved in Kenneth W. Starr's investigations of President Bill Clinton regarding Whitewater and Monica S. Lewinsky.
Kavanaugh also is widely described as brilliant, affable and disarming, attributes that prevented Democrats from successfully demonizing Roberts. And as they did with the Roberts nomination, Democrats are focusing largely on what they do not know about the nominee, an approach that gained little traction in the chief justice's confirmation debate.
But those who hope to block Kavanaugh's confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit -- generally seen as second only to the Supreme Court in importance -- received some new ammunition yesterday from the American Bar Association.
When the ABA first reviewed Kavanaugh in 2003, it said in a statement yesterday, "it was noted that he had never tried a case to verdict or judgment" and "he had very little experience with criminal cases." The statement said: "Additional interviews conducted in 2006 expanded upon those earlier concerns. One judge who witnessed the nominee's oral presentation in court commented that the nominee was 'less than adequate' before the court, had been 'sanctimonious,' and demonstrated 'experience on the level of an associate.' A lawyer who had observed him during a different court proceeding stated: 'Mr. Kavanaugh did not handle the case well as an advocate and dissembled.' "
The statement also said that some interviewees concluded that Kavanaugh was "insulated."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, responding to the statement, said, "In 42 votes cast in the three ABA reviews, all 42 found Mr. Kavanaugh to be qualified or well qualified to serve on the D.C. Circuit."
The White House also notes that even though the ABA recently downgraded its rating of Kavanaugh, the lowest grade he received was "qualified." A minority of the reviewers rated him "well qualified."
Today's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee will provide Democrats their first opportunity to use the bar association's latest mix of praise and criticism and to gauge the sentiment for an eventual all-out fight to block the nomination in the full Senate, even if it means a Democratic-sponsored filibuster.
A year ago, the Senate's battle over judicial filibusters brought the chamber to the edge of a crisis. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) vowed to deploy the "nuclear option," a rule change that would bar such filibusters. At the last moment, seven Republicans and seven Democrats struck a compromise that averted a showdown and allowed some nominees to be confirmed while others were abandoned.
Bush's nomination of Kavanaugh to the D.C. Circuit, first made nearly three years ago, was not addressed. Frist, eager to renew the confirmation process with a choice likely to inspire conservatives and to frustrate Democrats, has chosen Kavanaugh as the test case.
Like Roberts, Kavanaugh has legions of friends from all political viewpoints who endorse him unequivocally. "I am a liberal Democrat, and during the time we have been friends, Brett and I have disagreed on most political questions we have discussed," Washington lawyer Pamela Harris, a Yale Law School classmate, wrote to the committee. "But not once in that time has Brett been anything less than fully respectful of my views or unwilling to hear and take seriously what I have to say. . . . He never belittles or condescends to those with whom he disagrees."