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The Brett Kavanaugh confirmation 3-ring circus: Editorial Board Roundtable

September 7, 2018

The Brett Kavanaugh confirmation 3-ring circus: Editorial Board Roundtable

Knowing that Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice is all but assured, have Democrats been over the top in his raucous confirmation hearing this week in which they asked that the hearing be postponed -- and when dozens of protesters were arrested and Kavanaugh himself appeared to turn his back on the father of one of the students killed in the Parkland shooting?

Or are Democrats on point in concerns that documents are being withheld, improperly classified as confidential, or delivered so late it’s impossible to review them, and that, more broadly, the Supreme Court nomination process has been hijacked in partisan ways that prevent an honest review of a nominee’s record and views?

Is Kavanaugh the smart, personable, easy-to-work with guy portrayed by Condoleezza Rice, with whom he worked in the George W. Bush White House, and an exceptionally bright legal talent whose appellate rulings already have influenced the high court, as Sen. Rob Portman noted? Or is President Donald Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh -- someone whose opinion on the propriety of investigating the president flipped after his participation in the Monica Lewinsky investigation of Bill Clinton -- the result, in effect, of a president hand-picking a justice who might rule favorably in his own potential case, as his campaign and associates are being investigated and he himself has been implicated in confessed campaign misdeeds? 

Then there’s Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. Is Kavanaugh, as many believe, the fifth vote to overturn Roe as promised by Trump during his presidential campaign? Despite Kavanaugh’s recent assertion to Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that he regards that ruling as settled law, he himself has noted there really is no such thing in Supreme Court jurisprudence since the justices can and have discarded prior opinions. 

Underlying much of the animosity is what the Democrats feel was the shabby way President Barack Obama’s 2016 nominee, Merrick Garland, was treated by Senate Republicans, who refused even to schedule confirmation hearings on him. Republicans counter that the American people effectively offered their referendum on the subject by electing Trump president and giving him the ability to name the next Supreme Court justices.

Kavanaugh, by the way, had praised Garland as “supremely qualified,” and when asked pointblank in these confirmation hearings whether he had “the greatest respect” for Trump, avoided answering.

Our editorial board roundtable offers its perspectives and we welcome your thoughts in the comments.

Thomas Suddes, editorial writer: 

Democrats have every right to raise questions, and Republicans have every right to parry them. In part, politics is theater, and these hearings are melodrama. But unless somebody uncovers something truly questionable about Judge Kavanaugh, age 53, he will soon be Justice Kavanaugh -- for life.

Ted Diadiun, editorial board member:

The Democrats and their supporters are embarrassing themselves in a way that rivals President Trump’s unrestrained tweets -- which wouldn’t have seemed possible. With every screaming protester who has to be carried out of the Senate hearings; with every attempted twisting of Kavanaugh’s written words; with every attempt to paint this good man as racist or misogynist, they are rallying against them the very people they will have to persuade in the next election. Democrat Corey Booker’s grandstand play of flouting Senate rules by releasing documents he said were marked confidential but in fact had already been released is Exhibit A, but more sinister is the attempt by him and his colleagues to hang incendiary words written by Kavanaugh out there with no context in an attempt to disparage and mislead. As one example cited by The Wall Street Journal, Booker highlighted a Kavanaugh email titled “racial profiling,” without explaining that it was a discussion by Kavanaugh post-9/11, in which he wrote that he generally favored security measures that are race-neutral. Another addresses a notation on a proposed op-ed claiming that legal scholars across the board consider Roe v. Wade to be settled law. Kavanaugh correctly noted that not all legal scholars believe that. It was an observation of fact, not a statement of personal opinion, but that has not stopped his opponents from using it as proof that he would vote to reverse abortion rights.  The tactics being used are deplorable and dishonest, and should have the opposite effect of what Kavanaugh’s opponents are trying to achieve.

Victor Ruiz, editorial board member:

 I applaud the Democrats for standing up to an administration that is tearing down our democracy’s checks and balances on a daily basis. Let this be a reminder to all that elections have consequences.  

Lisa Garvin, editorial board member: 

The explosive Kavanaugh confirmation process is a circus of the GOP’s own making. The party’s refusal to release thousands of documents, and withholding thousands more until the eve of the hearings is dirty pool, plain and simple. Democrats have two words for you: Merrick Garland. Turnabout is fair play. 

Mary Cay Doherty, editorial board member:

Understandably, Democrats wish this SCOTUS pick was theirs to make.  But it’s not. Gallery protesters are disruptive and uncivil under the alleged banner of free speech; a right that the Left invokes frequently, but extends to others reluctantly. Grandstanding Democratic senators clamoring for more documents are wasting time. Kavanaugh’s record, accolades from colleagues, and thousands of submitted documents prove that he is an excellent candidate – he’s just not a liberal. The 2016 Merrick Garland “hearings that never happened” have left Democrats itching for retribution, but this is not that opportunity.  Confirm Kavanaugh and move on.

Eric Foster, editorial board member:

The truth is the Democrats must rant and rave because they have no actual power to influence the process.  If the Senate were controlled by Democrats, I am sure Brett Kavanaugh would be getting the “Merrick Garland treatment” as we speak.

Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion, cleveland.com:

No matter how terrifically nice and smart Brett Kavanaugh might be, his nomination is sadly the result of a specific RFP from President Trump seeking to bar the door against any attempt to hold him liable for possible misdeeds, by nominating a jurist who’s become openly skeptical about probing a sitting president. This attempted perversion of constitutional checks and balances should concern all Americans. 

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* Email general questions about our editorial board or comments on this editorial board roundtable to Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion, at esullivan@cleveland.com. 

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