US President Donald Trump didn’t have to ask Brett Kavanaugh for his views on abortion, immigration or religion before nominating him for the Supreme Court. Those were already well known, since everyone on the president’s short list of candidates had been vetted by the powerful conservative Federalist Society, of which the nominee was already a member.
The real reason Kavanaugh was picked by this totally self-absorbed president could be summed up in a single sentence in a speech the judge gave at Georgetown University Law Center in early 1998: “It makes no sense at all to have an independent counsel looking at the conduct of the president.”
That’s all Trump needed to hear to convince him that Kavanaugh would be his “get out of jail free” card.
The Weekly Standard, a conservative publication, said Kavanaugh is “outspoken” on “the need to protect a sitting president from indictment.”
Kavanaugh didn’t always feel that way. Not in the 1990s, when worked for special counsel Kenneth Starr on the investigations of Bill Clinton in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky cases. Back then he was outspoken in his demands that every salacious detail of the Democratic president’s peccadillos be publicly laid bare for all to see.
He “pressed Mr. Starr to aggressively question Mr. Clinton on the details of his sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky,” the New York Times reported, and he subsequently “drafted the section of Mr. Starr’s report to the House that laid out 11 possible grounds for Mr. Clinton’s impeachment.”
When not investigating a Democratic president, he seemed to take a very different view.
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There’s no way Trump would have nominated Kavanaugh to succeed his mentor, retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, unless he were certain this court wouldn’t do to this president what a previous one did to Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. The nominee apparently no longer feels a president should be forced to answer a subpoena or give testimony under oath.
Kavanaugh wrote in 2009 that he now believes it was “a mistake” that “the president should be required to shoulder the same obligations that we all carry.” In other words, the president should be above the law.
As part of Starr’s team, “Kavanaugh took a hard line in urging relentless and detailed questioning of the president,” reported the Times. He resented Clinton’s attacks on his mentor, Starr, accusing the president of “a sustained propaganda campaign that would make Nixon blush.”
I wonder what he thinks of Trump’s vicious attacks not only on special prosecutor Robert Mueller but on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions – and especially on deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who was one of Kavanaugh’s colleagues on Starr’s team, along with Trump’s secretary of health and human services Alex M. Azar II.
Kavanaugh may have become more sympathetic toward the presidency after working in the White House under George W. Bush, who later nominated him to his present seat on the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. Without the change, he certainly would not be looking at a seat on the Supreme Court.
The Federalist Society not only vets court nominees for this administration, but its top official sits in the White House. Executive vice president Leonard Leo is “on leave” to help the Trump administration pick those who it wants to sit on federal benches.
Look for Democrats at his confirmation hearings to ask Kavanaugh to recuse himself from any case brought by the special counsel against Trump. They are also likely to echo the views of most Jewish voters, who went three-to-one for Hillary Clinton.
As expected, the Republican Jewish Coalition enthusiastically endorsed Kavanaugh, praising Trump for “another great pick.”
Orthodox Jewish groups can be expected to be less outwardly fervent but similarly supportive in light of his past rulings and the administration’s positions on religious rights
The Orthodox Union is staying neutral for the time being, although it praised his rulings on the “greater involvement of religious organizations and institutions in society.” The Washington director of the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Abba Cohen, called him “a very impressive candidate” and praised his rulings favoring religious institutions.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America said Kavanaugh on the court “would directly threaten the values we hold dear as Jews,” including abortion,voting rights, church-state separation, social and economic justice and environmental protection.
The American Jewish Committee tried to appear noncommittal while raising questions about his views on immigration, abortion, religious liberty and family separation.
Outspoken opposition came from the Anti-Defamation League, citing his “demonstrated hostility to reproductive freedom” and his support for “greatly expanded and unchecked executive power.”
An “incensed” National Council of Jewish Women feels he will “threaten women’s reproductive rights generally and Roe v Wade in particular.”
The Reform Jewish Movement said his nomination will “significantly jeopardize or adversely affect” Jewish values.
Bend the Arc: Jewish Action called it “an affront” to the values of most American Jews.
Republicans want Senate hearings to begin next month so he can be confirmed before the November 6 election because they feel that will be very popular with their base and give them a boost in the midterm election.
When a Democratic president nominated someone for the Supreme Court, the Senate Republican leadership refused to bring it to a vote citing the proximity to an election, but when the proverbial tables were turned, the GOP rallying call was “full speed ahead.”
Trump will be leading the charge as if his presidency depended on it. Because it does.
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