WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday said he views Roe v. Wade as settled law, according to Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, but the answer did little to mollify Democrats who say he would restrict abortion access from the bench.
In a two-hour meeting, Kavanaugh told Collins that he agrees with Chief Justice John Roberts, who called Roe v. Wade settled law during his confirmation hearings in 2005.
“We talked at great length about precedent and the application of stare decisis to abortion cases,” Collins said, using the legal term for settled precedent.
Kavanaugh’s views on abortion are of major importance to Collins, as the Maine Republican had vowed to oppose President Donald Trump’s nominee if he had “demonstrated hostility” to the 1973 decision codifying abortion rights.
Collins called the meeting “very informative” and said they discussed a variety of topics. She said she would not make a decision on how to vote until after the Senate Judiciary Committee holds confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh, set for next month.
Democrats fighting Kavanaugh’s ascension to the high court sought to keep up the pressure, dismissing Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade as an artful dodge.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., met with Kavanaugh later Tuesday. He said the judge refused to answer when asked directly whether Roe. V. Wade was correctly decided.
That lack of clarity, Schumer said, should “send shivers down the spine of any American who believes in reproductive freedom for women.”
Schumer added that Kavanaugh has a special obligation to be forthcoming on abortion, given Trump’s “litmus test that he would only appoint judges who would overturn Roe.”
Kavanaugh has already met with most Senate Republicans, but winning support from Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, could be crucial. Both senators support access to abortion services.
Republicans have a narrow 50-49 majority in the Senate due to the absence of ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and can’t afford a single defection on Kavanaugh if every Democrat votes no.
Schumer said he asked Kavanaugh about his views on executive power, and particularly whether the president must comply with a subpoena, testify or provide records. The questions are particularly relevant as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation proceeds.
“He would not say that the president must comply with a subpoena or provide records,” Schumer said.
Schumer said they also spent much of the interview going over Kavanaugh’s years working at the White House under President George W. Bush. “Unfortunately, the judge either wouldn’t answer or could not remember key moments of his tenure,” the senator said.
Schumer said that Kavanaugh’s inability to “recall almost anything that happened while he was secretary for the president or while he was counsel is why we need his full record released to the American people.”
Democrats complain that Republicans are withholding documents in their rush to confirm Trump’s pick for the court ahead of the midterm elections.
They want records that crossed Kavanaugh’s desk as Bush’s staff secretary. But Republicans have declined to pursue them, saying there are adequate records available from Kavanaugh’s previous administrative work, as well as his 12 years as an appellate court justice.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the Democrats’ demand for more records is a stall tactic.
“We know the true reason for their unprecedented document demand: to delay Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation until after the midterm elections, when the Senate Democrats hope to win back the Senate and block Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination forever,” Grassley said.
The National Archives is also producing documents from Kavanaugh’s time on Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton, but has said its larger cache of files from the Bush years won’t fully be delivered until late October.
The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said senators will have all the paperwork they need to make a decision on Kavanaugh’s nomination. “I’m confident he will be confirmed,” Cornyn said.
While Schumer was working to build opposition, several Democrats from states that Trump won in the 2016 election remained undecided about how to vote, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Manchin, Donnelly and Heitkamp voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
McCaskill had her chance to question Kavanaugh on Tuesday and was noncommittal. She said she talked to the judge about access to health care and getting “dark money” from anonymous donors out of politics, among other things.
Kavanagh, 53, is a conservative who, in replacing retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, could tip the court rightward for a generation.
Several Democratic female senators joined with advocates for women’s health care Tuesday to talk about the stakes of adding Kavanaugh to the court, particularly when it comes to access to abortion services.
“This is a wakeup call,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. “Do not take this moment lightly.”
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee pushed back, scolding colleagues for treating the nominee as if he’d just been released from prison. “I hope we treat him with dignity and respect,” Alexander said.
Republicans hope to have Kavanaugh confirmed by the start of the court’s session on Oct. 1.
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