Brett Kavanaugh written questions focus on personal finances
We now know Judge Brett Kavanaugh is bad luck for the Washington Nationals, that he seemed nervous before his first date with the woman who would become his wife, and that he has never been treated for a gambling addition in case anyone had been curious.
And it turns out some people were curious.
Among the more than 1,200 written questions Democrats submitted to President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee were queries about his poker-playing habits, his affinity for attending baseball games, and his less-than-flush personal finances, all tucked inside more traditional questions about judicial precedent and his own lengthy record.
In written responses, Judge Kavanaugh brushed aside many of the legal inquiries, refused to criticize Mr. Trump and declined to say when he would recuse himself from cases just as he did in his in-person testimony the week before.
What he did do though, and in some detail, was answer questions about his personal finances and the house in Chevy Chase, Maryland, that seems to be eating up a lot of his money.
He went line-by-line through his home repairs, describing his money pit house that’s forced him to replace the air conditioning and water heater, buy a new oven and refrigerator, stop basement flooding, repaint inside and out, repair fences and remove mold.
He also revealed he bought season tickets to the D.C.’s baseball team from 2005 to 2017 including tickets for every postseason home game during that time. And he revealed he’s bad luck: “We are 3-8 in those games.”
“My wife and I spend money on our daughters and sports,” he said, adding in Nixonian Checkers-speech fashion that they recently joined the tony Chevy Chase Country Club “primarily because of the ice hockey program that my younger daughter participates in.”
The questions and the personal details they elicited were another sign of just how different this particular confirmation has been.
Senators posed a total of 1,287 written questions, and all but nine of them were from Democrats.
Thomas Jipping, a former GOP staffer who’s now at the Heritage Foundation, and who’s been involved in 11 confirmations, said Democrats were essentially attempting to have a second hearing for the judge.
“It’s not only the sheer number of questions but it’s the focus on what the senators know Kavanaugh cannot answer or provide, and that no nominee can answer or provide,” Mr. Jipping said. “They know that, and they’re intentionally asking dozens or hundreds of questions that no nominee can answer. There’s no way to describe that other than recklessly irresponsible.”
In most of those cases Judge Kavanaugh replied with some version of claiming it would be “improper” to offer thoughts on a case that might come before him, either as a justice or even in his current job on the circuit court in Washington, D.C.
A few of questions did spur informative answers, though.
In one more substantive exchange with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, Judge Kavanaugh said he will not release reporters from their confidentiality agreements with him during his time serving on the independent counsel’s investigation into the Clintons.
During the hearing last week he admitted to having served as an anonymous source for reporters, at the direction of Independent Counsel Ken Starr. Prodded by senators, he said he would have to think about whether he would release those reporters from their obligation to protect him as a confidential source.
But in his written answers this week he said he would not release them and said it was for reporters’ own good.
“It would be inappropriate in this context to disregard that foundational privilege and protection for the press,” he wrote.
The 1,287 written questions asked of Judge Kavanaugh are more than all previous high court nominees combined, according to Republicans. They come on top of four days of hearings last week that saw the judge sit for two full days of in-person questions.
Carolyn Shapiro, co-director of the Institute on the Supreme Court at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, said Judge Kavanaugh was more open about judicial philosophy questions than some past nominees but still avoided issues he should have been willing to talk about.
She said one of those was his past comments on abortion and particularly praise for then-Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in the landmark Roe v. Wade case that made abortion a constitutional right. She said she was troubled that he wouldn’t defend or explain those sentiments.
She also said she thought the judge mischaracterized his own dissent in a controversial case involving an illegal immigrant teen seeking an abortion while in government care.
“What he said about his opinion in that case, I don’t think was entirely accurate,” she said.
She said nominees shouldn’t be required to give assurances about future rulings. But he appeared to be stretching the limits of what’s become known as the “Ginsburg standard” of refusing to discuss cases in any detail at all.
Judge Kavanaugh repeatedly declined to comment on major legal battles, citing former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others who he said had similarly demurred. More than 70 times in his written answers this week he cited “nominee precedent” for declining to answer.
Ms. Shapiro said looking back at Justice Ginsburg’s hearing, she was far more willing to talk about her past writings than Judge Kavanaugh was about his.
“As a general matter, I think that nominees should speak candidly about things,” she said.
Ms. Shapiro did say the questions from senators about Judge Kavanaugh’s financial history didn’t cross any lines.
Those questions came chiefly from Mr. Whitehouse, who prodded the judge about debts shown on previous financial disclosures.
“Have you ever gambled or accrued gambling debt in the state of New Jersey?” asked Mr. Whitehouse.
The judge said he “occasionally” visited casinos there in college or in his 20s, and said he “played low-stakes blackjack” and never ran up any debt.
Mr. Whitehouse continued: “Have you ever sought treatment for a gambling addiction?”
“No,” the judge wrote.
Mr. Whitehouse concluded his line of questioning by wondering what Judge Kavanaugh had meant in an email to colleagues when he urged them to “be very, very vigilant” in a confidential matter he’d discussed with them.
It turns out that matter was his first date with his now-wife, Ashley, on Sept. 10, 2001.
“Over the course of the preceding weekend, I had discussed Ashley at some length with my longtime friends. In the email, I was asking my friends not to share my interest in and upcoming date with Ashley with their spouses,” he said.
Mr. Whitehouse’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The tone of questions drew the attention of current Supreme Court justices.
Justice Clarence Thomas, speaking at a Federalist Society event this week, mocked Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who declared himself “Spartacus” after defying Senate rules to release confidential documents.
“Honorable if we could use that word about more people who are in public life, people who actually ask the questions at confirmation hearings instead of Spartacus,” Justice Thomas said, going on to complain about people more interested in “scoring points or looking cute or being on TV.”
Justice Ginsburg also found the proceedings distasteful, calling it “a highly partisan show.”
“The atmosphere in ’93 was truly bipartisan. The vote on my confirmation was 96 to 3 even though I had spent about 10 years of my life litigating cases under the auspices of the ACLU and I was on the ACLU board and one of their general counsels,” she said at an event at George Washington University Law School.
She said she didn’t face a single question about that work during her own confirmation.
She added: “I wish I could wave a magic wand and have it go back to the way it was.”
⦁ Alex Swoyer contributed to this article.