The fight over Kavanaugh’s Nixon comment
A new front opened up in the confirmation fight over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this week, after Senate Democrats seized on years-old remarks in which Kavanaugh questioned the Supreme Court ruling that forced President Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes. Included in a trove of documents Kavanaugh passed to the Senate Judiciary Committee was a 1999 transcript of a panel on which he said the unanimous 1974 United States v. Nixon ruling was perhaps “wrongly decided.” The decision, he said, “took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch.” Democrats pounced on the comments, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asking, “If Kavanaugh would’ve let Nixon off the hook, what is he willing to do for President Trump?”
Democrats are now pushing for the release of all records from the federal judge’s long career in Republican politics, including his three years as staff secretary to President George W. Bush. Republicans have attacked the demand—which could produce more than a million pages of records—as a political stunt. No matter what documents are produced, said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), “it won’t be enough to satisfy the 20 Democrats who have already come out against the nomination.”
What the columnists said
Kavanaugh’s comments provide “a fascinating insight into his views on executive power,” said Mark Joseph Stern in Slate.com. What’s most striking is that Kavanaugh didn’t just oppose Nixon, “he condemned the court’s decision to hear the case in the first place.” A judge so opposed to presidential oversight is “precisely the kind of person Trump would want on the Supreme Court.”
Democrats are “showing the depths of their desperation” by twisting Kavanaugh’s words, said Carrie Severino in NationalReview.com. The 1999 panel discussion included members of President Clinton’s legal team during his investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr—an investigation that Kavanaugh worked on. Kavanaugh noted that Clinton’s team used claims of executive privilege similar to Nixon’s to fend off document requests. Rather than questioning Nixon, Kavanaugh “was challenging his opponents on the panel to reconcile their legal position in the Clinton investigation with Nixon.”
Yet Kavanaugh has articulated an “extraordinarily deferential stance on presidential powers and privileges,” said Matt Ford in NewRepublic.com. In a 2009 law article, he suggested that the president should be given temporary immunity from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions while in office. His argument? The job is incredibly complex and the president needs as “few distractions as possible.” But excusing Trump from such distractions would grind special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to a halt and let Trump escape political embarrassment from lawsuits brought by women accusing him of sexual assault. If Nixon were in office today, he’d want Kavanaugh on the court, too.