TOPICS > Politics

White House Lawyer Brett Kavanaugh Holds Judicial Nomination for D.C. Fed. Court

May 10, 2006 at 6:15 PM EDT

HOLMAN: Forty-one-year-old White House lawyer Brett Kavanaugh said all the right
things before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, at least as far as committee
Republicans were concerned.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. Court of Appeals Nominee:
I have dedicated my career to public service. I revere the rule of law. I know
firsthand the central role of the courts in protecting the rights and the liberties
of the people.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), Utah: You’ve made public service
your life, and I don’t see how we can find a better person to serve and give public
service than you.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Democrats were unanimous in suggesting
Kavanaugh is too young, too inexperienced, too conservative, or too partisan to
warrant a seat on the District of Columbia Federal Court of Appeals.

CHUCK SCHUMER (D), New York: If there’s been a partisan, political fight that
needed a very bright legal foot-soldier in the last decade, Brett Kavanaugh was
probably there.

KWAME HOLMAN: There was a time when Senate Democrats could
rely on a procedural maneuver known as the filibuster to block a vote on the president’s
nominees, those they considered unacceptable, but times have changed. The Gang
of 14, those seven Democrats and seven Republicans who organized last year to
vote as a bloc on judicial nominees, has broken the Senate logjam on several nominations
and, ever since, taken the filibuster out of play.

Senate Majority Leader: We need to keep up the momentum and keep driving forward
so that each and every nominee gets a fair up-or-down vote here on the floor of
the Senate.

A pair of nominations

KWAME HOLMAN: On the day he returned from spring recess two weeks ago, Majority Leader Bill Frist announced he would push ahead with two more of the president's judicial nominations. North Carolina Federal District Judge Terrence Boyle, first nominated to an appeals court seat in 1991...

SEN. BILL FRIST: He has been waiting 15 years for a fair up-or-down vote.

KWAME HOLMAN: ... and Brett Kavanaugh.

SEN. BILL FRIST: First nominated in July of 2003. He's been waiting ever since that date. He, too, deserves a fair up-or-down vote.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate Judiciary Committee held its confirmation hearing for Kavanaugh two years ago, but he was called back yesterday by Committee Chairman Arlen Specter in a nod to Democrats who said they had more questions to ask.

They wanted to know about his possible involvement in administration policy on domestic wiretapping and interrogation of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and abroad. But the extra hearing clearly rankled some Republicans.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: I don't know why we needed this second hearing. In fact, I know we didn't.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), Oklahoma: We're here to give a second look at somebody who's already answered the questions.

Hoping for a fight

KWAME HOLMAN: But Republicans aren't necessarily opposed to another judicial battle; some believe that could energize their base in advance of November's congressional elections, so says Texas' John Cornyn.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), Texas: I think politically and every other way the American people don't agree that any party ought to be able to obstruct the up- or-down vote of the judicial nominees, so that's why I think it's a winner for us.

KWAME HOLMAN: And that strategy worked for the president when he campaigned for Republican candidates in 2002 and 2004.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: There's a minority of senators blocking the process. They're playing politics with something as important as the judiciary.

KWAME HOLMAN: But it's the Republicans who are playing politics this year, says Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, an interest group opposed to Kavanaugh.

NAN ARON, Alliance for Justice: It's shameful and inappropriate for any party to use the courts and federal judgeships as a tool to gin up their party right before an election; it's too important.

Long after these senators leave office, Brett Kavanaugh will still be on the D.C. Circuit. And based on what we know of his record, he will be casting votes long into the future harmful to consumers, Americans who rely on our laws to protect the environment, consumer rights, civil rights, and civil liberties.

Contentious points for battle

KWAME HOLMAN: At yesterday's hearing, Democrats did press Kavanaugh on the hot-button issues of wiretapping and torture, noting that, as the president's staff secretary, seen here, Kavanaugh oversaw all paper headed toward the Oval Office.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), Vermont: Did you see documents of the president relating to the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program?


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: What about documents related to the administration's polices and practice of torture? Did you see any documents on that whatsoever going to the president?


KWAME HOLMAN: Kavanaugh's critics also were armed with new ammunition. The American Bar Association this week downgraded Kavanaugh's rating from well-qualified to qualified, citing further reviews of his courtroom presence as "sanctimonious" and "insulated." Kavanaugh downplayed the change.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: There have been a total of 42 separate reviews conducted on me, based on interviews with lots of people and revealed lots of record. All 42 have found that I'm well-qualified or qualified to serve on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

KWAME HOLMAN: Washington lawyer Brad Berenson, a former colleague of Kavanaugh's in the White House, dismissed the ABA's rating.

BRAD BERENSON, Former Associate White House Counsel: You may remember that President Bush early in his first term eliminated the ABA's role in the selection process for judicial nominees, in part because of concerns that the ABA didn't play it straight and was too political in the way it evaluated nominees from the different parties. This downgrade, I think, bears out that concern quite eloquently.

Too green for judgeship?

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats, however, questioned Kavanaugh's work with Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr on the investigations of President Clinton, involving Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky affair. Kavanaugh also was a legal adviser to the Bush campaign during the Florida recount of 2000.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein charged Kavanaugh's resume was over-stocked with politics and not enough judicial experience.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), California: Without a record, either as a trial lawyer or as a judge, it's very difficult for some of us to know what kind of a judge you would be and whether you can move away from the partisanship into that arena of objectivity and fairness.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: I think only four of the last 21 judges on the DC Circuit have actually had prior judicial experience, so the norm on the DC Circuit -- in fact, the overwhelming norm -- is for the judges on the DC Circuit since 1977 not to have had prior judicial experience.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Nan Aron said the DC Circuit Court of Appeals is no place for beginners.

NAN ARON: This court not only hears most of the cases in this country affecting workers, public health and safety laws, civil rights, civil liberties, but it also handles large numbers of very conceptually difficult cases. Given Brett Kavanaugh's meager legal credentials, many people have questioned whether or not he's qualified to handle the workload of the DC Circuit.

KWAME HOLMAN: Brad Berenson disagreed.

BRAD BERENSON: Brett has been a prosecutor. He has litigated cases in the Supreme Court. He has extensive experience as a lawyer, both in government and in private practice, easily the equal of many, many federal judges around the country and, in certain respects, quite superior.

If there's a more talented or distinguished lawyer in Brett's age group, I'm not sure who it is. And I think a lot of these suggestions that he has insufficient courtroom experience are really just a smokescreen for deeper political objections.

KWAME HOLMAN: Tomorrow, committee Republicans expect to approve and move Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate for likely confirmation. Democrats next will set their sights on Judge Terrence Boyle, whose rulings on minority rights and on cases in which he had a financial interest have raised questions among Republicans, as well.