WASHINGTON — Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), told CNN on Wednesday that he estimates that confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would be at least by early September.
He also rejected calls by Democrats to delay the hearings until after the midterms.
No matter when the hearing is held, though, it is likely to generate much more interest from viewers than any recent Supreme Court nomination battle, given the stakes involved and promises by Democrats to mine through Kavanaugh’s extensive record and to press him for specific answers to his positions.
“He has to answer questions,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters. “The old dodge of stare decisis has been thrown out the window because Justice [John] Roberts, Justice [Samuel] Alito [Jr.] and Justice [Neil] Gorsuch claimed they would follow precedent and the minute they got on the court they did not.”
Then, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, interjected, “And if you don’t think Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t answer questions about Roe v. Wade and about reproductive rights, watch the movie.”
She was referring to “RBG,” the new documentary about Ginsburg’s life, in which she is shown expressing support for a woman’s right to choose during her confirmation hearings in 1993.
Roe v. Wade will undoubtedly be a primary topic for Kavanaugh at the hearings, but based on Democrats’ criticisms of the choice, they also will press him on healthcare, LGBT rights, gerrymandering, net neutrality and other major issues. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), another member of the Judiciary Committee, said that Kavanaugh was the only person on Trump’s list of Supreme Court candidates who “has said, Mr. President, in effect, we will give you immunity. We will be your shield.”
Booker was referring to a 2009 article that Kavanaugh wrote for the Minnesota Law Review in which he said that presidents’ burdens of office make it necessary that they not be distracted by civil litigation or even aspects of criminal investigations until after they are out of office. But Kavanaugh also made the point that Congress should decide whether to pass legislation on such a deferral, and left it a bit unclear on where he stood on the current authority of a special prosecutor.
Booker is among those urging that the confirmation hearings be held until after Special Counsel Robert Mueller wraps up his investigation — something that is unlikely to happen. So it’s probably a good bet that a focus of Booker’s questioning will be on what Kavanaugh thinks of presidential immunity.
In other words, the confirmation hearings already have the makings of being a must-see event. They may not quite be the cultural moment of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings of 1991 –=- the subject of two cable movies — but Democrats would like to mine Kavanaugh’s record not just on the bench but in the White House for President George W. Bush in the 2000s and for working for Special Counsel Kenneth Starr as he investigated President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
Alan Schroeder, journalism professor at Northeastern University in Boston, said that “one of the peculiarities of the Trump presidency is that everything this White House touches gets turned into a spectacle, intentionally or not. That includes confirmation hearings, which normally might attract an audience of only the most avid political junkies, but which now have the potential to interest a broader segment of the public.”
He adds, “With so much political intensity in the country right now, and so much discussion around this question of Trump’s Supreme Court appointments, I would expect above-average interest in the Kavanaugh hearings, both from journalists and from voters. The hearings make a the perfect cable news story, because they offer a rich bounty for hosts and pundits to build their shows around for days on end.”
He cautions that there’s also the chance that “something else comes along to hijack the headlines.”
“This, of course, is another peculiarity of the Trump presidency: blockbuster news has a way of popping out of nowhere and dominating the conversation in ways that no one expected.”