WASHINGTON – A Senate panel is expected to vote on President Bush's judicial nominee on Thursday after senators finished grilling Brett Kavanaugh Tuesday in a rare second confirmation hearing.
Kavanaugh's nomination to the D.C. Court of Appeals, languishing for three years, came into question again by the Senate Judiciary Committee over controversial issues he may have handled as an aide to President Bush.
"I pledge to each member of the Senate that if confirmed I will interpret the law as written and not impose personal policy choices," Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I will follow precedent in all cases fully and fairly."
Sen. Arlen Specter, Republican chairman of the committee, asked a list of questions to Kavanaugh about whether he had any involvement with rendition policy for detainees, their treatment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Kavanaugh answered "no" to each of the questions.
Kavanaugh also said that if confirmed, he would follow Roe vs. Wade, suggesting he viewed it as the settled law of the land regarding abortion. But Democrats had other concerns.
Some Democrats questioned Kavanaugh about his role as White House staff secretary and opposed his nomination, saying he was unseasoned and a partisan.
"We feel that the nominee is not apolitical enough, not seasoned enough, not independent enough and hasn't been forthcoming enough. Maybe this hearing will remove those concerns, but it is certainly necessary," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
The American Bar Association recently released its rating of Kavanaugh, lowering it from "well-qualified" to "qualified" after a new round of inquiries. Bar officials said earlier this week that they had some concerns about Kavanaugh's professional experience.
"This nominee enjoys a solid reputation for integrity, intellectual capacity, and writing and analytical ability. The concern has been and remains focused on the breadth of his professional experience, and the most recent supplemental evaluation has enhanced that concern," panel chairman Steven Tober said.
White House officials point out that Kavanaugh has been a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and has argued cases in federal appeals courts and the Supreme Court.
Critics also take aim at his position as an assistant to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the impeachment probe of President Clinton and his work on behalf of the Bush campaign during the election recount in 2000.
Kavanaugh answered questions about that work, acknowledging that the impeachment investigation and Starr's other work about Clinton's real estate and travel office issues "created the impression that Judge Starr was somehow the permanent special investigator of the administration."
Kavanaugh acknowledged giving final approval to signing statements that the White House issues when Bush signs legislation into law. Such statements have been controversial because they describe the way the president will execute the law.
Kavanaugh told senators that he would strive to be an impartial judge on questions of whether he would recuse himself from cases involving the Bush administration.
"If confirmed to be a D.C. Circuit Court judge, I will call them as I see them," Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh's first confirmation hearing was in 2004 amid Democrats' threats to filibuster Bush's judicial nominees. But the Gang of 14, a group of bipartisan senators, broke the impasse a year ago by banding together to oppose filibusters of judicial nominees except under "extraordinary circumstances."
The Gang of 14 plans to meet Wednesday to discuss his nomination before the committee vote on Thursday. Nothing in the three hour and 27 minute hearing appeared to rise to the level of "extraordinary circumstances" that the Gang of 14 has said would be the benchmark on whether to permit a filibuster.
"If he reflects the views consistent with the president, that's entirely consistent with the president's nomination of judges," Specter said. "That's our system; that's decided by an election."
Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has said he wants a confirmation vote for Kavanaugh before Memorial Day, called for an up-or-down vote at the conclusion of the hearing.
"We need more qualified nominees on the bench who practice judicial restraint and respect the rule of law, and Brett Kavanaugh fits that description," Frist said in a statement. "I look forward to the committee reporting Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate on Thursday so that we can give him the fair, up-or-down vote he's been waiting on for three years."