WASHINGTON – The confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, brought out the worst in people and politics with dozens of arrests, widespread profanity, personal insults and petty political infighting.
In fact, two former senators told TMN it might be the most contentious hearing for a Supreme Court nominee in modern U.S. history.
“This has been one of the most embarrassing in terms of the conduct of committee members and people in the audience,” former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said. “It’s just totally unnecessary.”
Lott said the aggressive tone that surrounded the 1987 Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Robert Bork, who was ultimately rejected by the Senate, “may have been the worst.”
Lott said the tone of the 1991 confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas was “terrible too,” but said the extent of outbursts seen during the Kavanaugh hearing are without precedent.
“In terms of the hearing, the number of people that were demonstrating and the [potential] candidates for president on the Democratic side that were pontificating; it’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” he said.
Former Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, agreed that the extent of outbursts is unprecedented but said the anger seen among those who oppose the nomination is not surprising.
“The outbursts and anger by crowds in the room exceeds anything I have previously seen in the nomination process,” he said. “Because this nomination is a pivotal vote on the court for so many controversial issues, there is a lot at stake and it isn’t surprising to see so much anger.”
Dorgan said Republicans are responsible for the anger.
“The majority party’s refusal to even consider the previous Garland nomination, the withholding of relevant material on the current nominee….both contribute to the legitimate anger from Democrats,” he said.
Protesters shouted political sentiments while both Kavanaugh and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spoke.
“Sham justice. Sham president.”
“Save Roe. Vote No.”
“Stop the coverup.”
“This hearing is as an attack on women’s rights and democracy.”
“You cannot take away my gay marriage.”
The protests began Tuesday, the first day of the hearing, after Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) rejected a request by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) to adjourn so members could have additional time to review 42,000 pages of Kavanaugh’s documents the committee had received the previous evening.
Other Democrats seconded Harris’ request only to be denied.
On the second day, Wednesday, which also commenced with protests, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) invoked Senate Rule XXVI to adjourn the hearing.
The rule states that committees may not meet for than two hours after floor activity has commenced unless both the majority and minority leaders concur.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nullified Schumer’s invocation by declaring the Senate in recess for the day so the hearing could proceed.
On the third day, Thursday, controversy ensued after Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), released what he said were “committee confidential” documents from Kavanaugh’s tenure in the administration of President George W. Bush. The documents relayed Kavanaugh’s views on racial profiing.
However, it was later revealed by Grassley that the release of the documents had been authorized by the Bush library the previous evening.
Kavanaugh, 53, sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He has occupied that position since 2006.
Throughout the hearing Kavanaugh was asked about his views on abortion, the scope of presidential power, gun control, same-sex marriage and a myriad of other issues.
Following the precedent set by previous Supreme Court nominees, Kavanaugh declined to engage in politics and maintained that answering such questions would not be appropriate because cases involving those issues could at some point come before the high court.
Lott is senior counsel with the D.C. lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs. He served in the Senate from 1989-2007. Lott was Majority Leader from 1996-2002. He previously served as both Senate Republican Whip and House Republican Whip.
Dorgan served in the Senate from 1992-2011. He is a senior policy adviser at the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Arent Fox and is co-chair of the firm’s government relations practice.