Blumenthal questions Kavanaugh on gun rights, presidential powers
WASHINGTON — At the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Wednesday addressed what he termed “the elephant in the room:” The looming legal difficulties of President Donald Trump and what role Kavanaugh might play in adjudicating them.
“We are in uncharted territory,” Blumenthal, D-Conn., said. “It is unprecedented for a nominee to be made by a president who is an unindicted co-conspirator” in a pending criminal matter.
The criminal matter is a reference to Trump former lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea last month in which he said that before the 2016 election, he paid off women claiming sexual relationships with Trump at Trump’s direction.
“I would like your commitment you will recuse yourself” if Trump were to come before the Supreme Court, Blumenthal told Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh demurred, saying it would be a violation of judicial independence to make commitments on hypothetical cases.
“I’m going to take your answer as a ‘no,’” Blumenthal interrupted. “It’s really a yes-or-no question.”
A former prosecutor known for sharp rat-a-tat questioning, Blumenthal used his 30 minute round of questioning to focus in on a variety of controversial issues including abortion, health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions and gun control.
On abortion, Blumenthal cited Kavanaugh’s use of the phrase “abortion on demand” in an appeals court opinion last year on an illegal-immigrant teenager in Texas seeking to terminate a pregnancy.
“Those are code words used by the anti-choice community,” Blumenthal said. He accused Kavanaugh of using the phrase in order to send a message to the Trump administration that he was an opponent of the Roe v. Wade abortion precedent, willing to overturn it in line with Trump’s oft-stated promise only to appoint justices who would do so.
“These were your bumper stickers,” he said.
Kavanaugh replied he was “not familiar” with use of the words as code, and was only following the same words used by Chief Justice Warren Burger in the Roe v. Wade opinion in 1973. When asked by Blumenthal to commit to maintaining Roe v. Wade, Kavanaugh declined.
On guns, Blumenthal said he was “deeply disturbed” by Kavanaugh’s dissent in a 2011 case in which the majority upheld the District of Columbia’s ban on semi-automatic rifles — assault weapons.
He attacked Kavanaugh’s statement in the dissent that weapons in “common use” should be off-limits from governmental controls.
Those words come from the Supreme Court’s ruling in D.C. v. Helle, which struck down D.C.’s ban on handgun ownership. The decision stated for the first time that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to have a gun at home for self-protection.
In his dissent, Kavanaugh insisted that semi-automatic handguns permitted by Heller are barely distinguishable from semi-automatic rifles -- both discharge a single shot per trigger pull. Both are in “common use” and therefore “there is no basis…for drawing a constitutional distinction between semi-automatic handguns and semi-automatic rifles.”
Connecticut’s assault weapons ban actually dates back to the 1990s. But the legislature beefed it up in the round of gun-control laws approved in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012. Connecticut law now bans such weapons both by brand name and specific features -- a folding stock, for instance, or a pistol grip. Connecticut also bans magazines greater than 10 rounds.
Earlier Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., forced the Senate to shut down for the day by objecting to a floor motion by his Republican counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“Republicans are trying to jam through, with as little scrutiny as possible, a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court, with the power to affect the lives of Americans for a generation,” said Schumer on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Schumer objected to McConnell’s proposal to wave a rule that prevents Senate committees from hearings that go beyond two hours while the Senate is in session. After Schumer spoke up against what otherwise would have been a routine motion, the Senate’s top Republican then had little choice but to adjourn.