WASHINGTON (Circa) — Judge Brett Kavanaugh's record includes more than 300 legal opinions from his time on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, potentially millions of documents related to his work in the Bush administration and Democrats want to see all of them before the Supreme Court nominee's confirmation process goes forward.
The Senate Republican leadership is sticking to its goal of holding a hearing and confirming Kavanaugh by October 1, the start of the new Supreme Court term. In light of Democrats' demand for Kavanaugh's extensive record, some Republicans suggested the timeline could be overambitious.
Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley of Iowa said it may be two or three weeks before he can even schedule a hearing with Judge Kavanaugh. The committee just started the process of requesting Kavanaugh's records from the George W. Bush Presidential Library this week, Grassley told reporters. It is not yet clear how quickly the documents can be produced or how many there are.
Senate Democrats are demanding access to internal documents, memos and correspondences from Kavanaugh's two years as a White House legal counsel and his three years as President George W. Bush's staff secretary. They are also interested in information about his work on the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000, as well as documentation from his time as a staffer on Kenneth Starr's independent counsel investigation of President Bill Clinton.
The ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is leading the charge to obtain "ALL his records," saying they may reveal his position on everything from torture and warrantless surveillance to executive powers.
By some estimates, those records could include anywhere from one million to four million documents that Democrats say they want to review before the nominee appears before the Judiciary Committee.
"We have a big job ahead of us," Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill. told Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG). "And until we know the number of documents and have a chance to review them, I don't see how [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] can set deadlines."
Republicans have shown little patience for what they see as blatant stalling tactics.
"We’re not going to sit idly by and allow our Democratic colleagues to draw this out by making unreasonable document demands which would delay this hearing until well-past the election," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told reporters earlier this week, arguing Democrats want to see "every scrap of paper that ever came across Brett Kavanaugh's desk."
Sen. Grassley, despite working with Democrats to obtain Kavanaugh's records, condemned the minority party's tactics as a "taxpayer-funded fishing expedition" and "a paper chase beyond the relevant material."
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. agreed that senators should have information about the nominee but questioned whether that's what his colleagues were after. "When somebody’s requesting seven or ten million pages of documentation and they've already gone on record as a 'no,' then you really wonder about the sincerity of the document request," he said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, an early opponent of Trump's pick, argued the confirmation vote should be postponed until after the November midterms.
"I have no idea how we can have a vote before the next election," he told SBG. "There's no way we can responsibly have a vote given how slowly and inadequately they are producing the records...we need to make a really informed judgment, let alone a hearing."
That call has been echoed across liberal activist groups who are rallying Democrats and pressuring Republicans to block Trump's nominee.
The liberal judicial advocacy group, Demand Justice plans to spend at least $5 million opposing Kavanaugh's nomination. This week they put out advertisements saying "no hearings for Brett Kavanaugh" and "Senate Democrats must demand that Chairman Chuck Grassley delay hearings for Brett Kavanaugh until all of his documents have been released and reviewed."
A group of more than 100 civil rights groups signed onto a letter earlier this week which they sent to every senator arguing it would be a "dereliction of duty" to hear from the nominee without having his full record, acknowledging it could take weeks for the National Archives and George W. Bush Presidential Library to produce them.
Unlike 2016, when the Republican leadership successfully blocked the confirmation hearing of President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, Democrats aren't in a position to stop the process from moving forward.
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said he had gotten a lot of calls from constituents telling him to stop the hearing. "There is no procedural way, with Democrats in the minority, to prevent this hearing," he explained. "We can do our job. We can demand documents. We can ask tough questions, but at the end of the day it will take Republicans changing position in response to things they learn about Judge Kavanaugh for there to be any delay in his confirmation."
For Republicans to confirm Kavanaugh and cement the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, they cannot afford to lose a single vote. A handful of GOP senators could break away if the nominee's record proves problematic, including Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Democrats could also potentially lose votes from senators waging tough reelection battles in conservative states. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida are considered among the Democrats who could potentially approve President Trump's nominee.
Kavanaugh will not be the first Supreme Court nominee to face scrutiny over his career in politics. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elana Kagan were both political appointees under President Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton respectively.
The Obama administration released Kagan's White House records within two weeks of her nomination in May 2010. In 2005, Democratic senators demanded full documentation of Roberts' work at the White House and Justice Department, including internal memos. Roberts was confirmed within 24 days of his nomination, before the Bush administration produced his complete record.
"Some documents are normal to release," explained Carrie Severino policy director at the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group advocating for Kavanaugh's confirmation. "But what they're demanding goes beyond, to the kind of stuff that would be totally inappropriate."
For example, during the three years Kavanaugh served as President Bush's staff secretary, Kavanaugh was responsible for conveying policy documents and other materials between White House officials. Democrats reportedly want to see all of the documents he may have handled in that capacity.
It is unclear how much influence Kavanaugh had over White House policy. Bush's former deputy chief of staff Karl Rove told Fox News earlier this month, "Literally every document that goes to the president on a policy issue has to pass through the hands of the staff secretary." In that capacity, Rove said part of Kavanaugh's role was to edit and improve policy arguments.
As was the case with past nominees, the White House may invoke executive privilege and block certain documents from being released, potentially fueling the political fight.
Jennifer Epps-Addison, network president at the grassroots Center for Popular Democracy, stressed that public access to Kavanaugh's legal opinions and documents from his time in the Bush administration is "the bare minimum of transparency Americans should expect before confirming a Supreme Court nominee."
The Democrats' argument that they want to review everything about Kavanaugh's background became more salient this week after senators uncovered one judicial nominee's racially insensitive writings from his time at Yale Law School. On Thursday, the Senate majority leader was forced to withdraw Ryan Bounds name from consideration to serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the coming weeks, Kavanaugh will continue to hold meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Since President Trump nominated him on July 9, Judge Kavanaugh has met with more than a dozen Republican senators. Democrats have yet to request any meetings with the judge.