A nominee for the United States Supreme Court, especially a relatively obscure nominee like Judge Brett Kavanaugh, will necessarily be seen as an extension of the president who placed his or her name in contention. But during the confirmation process, the nominee is defined by the way in which he or she responds to the reasonable and necessary demands of the US senators who will decide whether to endorse the president’s selection.
Unfortunately, since Donald Trump announced his choice on July 9, Kavanaugh has failed to distinguish himself as anything more than the president’s dutiful minion. The controversial former White House aide—who advocates for an extreme view of executive privilege that would put sitting presidents above the law—has made no effort to present himself as an independent nominee. Nor has he displayed baseline respect for a process that cannot function without transparency and timely responses to requests for documents.
By failing to stand up for himself and for an independent judiciary, by letting the Trump White House manage every aspect of his bid for a life term on the most powerful court in the land, Kavanaugh has reinforced concerns that he will be nothing more than a highly-placed advocate for the imperial presidency to which Trump assumes he is entitled.
But, now, Kavanaugh faces a reckoning—in the form of the confirmation process that began Tuesday on the most contentious note in the history of Supreme Court nominations. On a day when 70 Kavanaugh critics were arrested and removed from the Senate hearing room and other locations on Capitol Hill, a debate raged about the nominee’s furtiveness.
This is a mess of Kavanaugh’s making. He had a chance to position himself on the side of openness. Instead, he allowed the Trump White House to mismanage the advancement of his nomination by engaging in outrageous secrecy, partisan gamesmanship, and oblique strategies that have confused even the president’s Republican allies. So it was that, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-IO) attempted to read the script that had been prepared for the first day of the committee’s consideration of Kavanaugh, the charade was exposed—and appropriately challenged.
As the confirmation hearing opened, Grassley faced an immediate inquiry from Senator Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who served as a local prosecutor and a state attorney general before her election to the Senate. Harris respectfully asked to be recognized to pose a question before the proceedings began.