A White House aide nominated for an appeals-court seat told senators on Tuesday he was not involved in controversial Bush administration policies that had concerned Democrats.
Brett Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee that his position as staff secretary in the White House would not affect his ability to be an independent judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
“I will call ’em as I see ’em, regardless of who the litigants may be,” said Kavanaugh, 41.
Democratic lawmakers, who had criticized Kavanaugh as partisan, asked for an unusual second hearing on his nomination to question his involvement in White House policies on issues like domestic spying and torture of detainees, which have arisen since his first hearing in April 2004.
Several Democrats said his answers gave them little sense of how he would act as a judge.
“Every time we get close, you say, ‘Sorry, I can’t answer.’ That is a problem for a person seeking a seat on the second-highest court on the land,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.
“Many of us hoped Mr. Kavanaugh would answer some of these questions he didn’t answer the first time, but he has not,” said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
Asked whether he had a role in White House policies covering the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, warrantless eavesdropping and torture of detainees overseas, Kavanaugh said he did not know about these issues until he read about them in the newspaper.
He also said he never met Jack Abramoff, the convicted lobbyist at the center of a political corruption scandal.
He declined to give his thoughts on abortion or discuss his role assisting Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr in the Monica Lewinsky investigation.
Kavanaugh is one of several controversial appeals court nominees who could shatter a shaky truce in the Senate over how to handle court appointments.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last year considered changing Senate rules to prohibit opponents from blocking a judicial nominee through endless debate, and Democrats had promised to effectively shut down the Senate in retaliation.
A showdown was averted in a deal struck by 14 centrist senators that prevents endless debate except under “extraordinary circumstances.”
Those senators will meet tomorrow to determine their position on Kavanaugh.
Specter said the committee will vote on Kavanaugh on Thursday and Frist has said he will have the full Senate vote by the end of the month.
The American Bar Association downgraded its rating of Kavanaugh in April from “well qualified” to “qualified,” citing concerns about his experience and objectivity.
Specter said the change was “not a tinker’s bit of difference, really,” and other Republicans pointed out that nobody on the ABA reviewing committee had found him to be unqualified.
“I don’t know why we needed this second hearing,” said Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. “I haven’t heard anything that would cause anybody to vote against you who is fair.”
© Reuters 2006