Senator Sasse to Play Key Role in Kavanaugh Confirmation Process

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. (Courtesy Photo)
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July 12, 2018 - 11:30am

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska will play an important role in the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh later this year as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The veteran federal appeals court judge was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy earlier this week. NET’s Jack Williams spoke with Senator Sasse about his thoughts on Judge Kavanaugh and the upcoming confirmation process.


NET News: What has been your initial impression of Judge Kavanaugh?

Senator Ben Sasse: Brett Kavanaugh is an incredibly attractive pick. I’ve heard people say Brett Kavanaugh is always the smartest person in any room that he’s in, and yet it seems like Brett Kavanaugh never knows that because he’s such a nice guy. He’s just humble and winsome in his manner. So, I think there’s a lot to recommend him and frankly he’s one of the most qualified individuals to ever be nominated. I think the president’s list of 25 was strong in general and the four finalists were all very, very strong and so I think Kavanaugh is an attractive pick.

NET News: This is President Trump’s second Supreme Court nomination. Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate last April. Do you think Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process will go as smoothly as the Gorsuch confirmation?

Sasse: I am unsure what the Democratic strategy is going to be on this confirmation process. There are people saying some really apocalyptic things out there that really just don’t have a lot of resonance with the reality of what’s happened with a guy who has been on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for 12 years, written just over 300 opinions during that time and I think more than 100 of those opinions have been cited by more than 200 other federal courts. So this is really a judge’s judge who pretty much any thoughtful judge in America looks at his opinions and thinks of him as a deeply reflective guy with a lot of deference to and commitment to the Constitution. And yet what you’re hearing outside, there are protestors all around and a lot of trackers with cameras talking about this like it’s the end of the world, that somebody has been nominated to the Supreme Court. And so right now I think we’re hearing so much outcomes-based anxiety and loud protests on the steps of the Supreme Court that I think the confirmation process has the potential to be pretty ugly for the next two to three months, but I hope that’s not the case. I think that we can do better than Thunderdome.   

NET News: You just mentioned Judge Kavanaugh has a long history of decisions on the D.C. Circuit. Do you think that alone will slow the confirmation process as you and your colleagues kind of sort through those decisions?

Sasse: That’s a great question. I’ve heard ranges of how many documents might be requested on Judge Kavanaugh, not just because of his 12 years on the D.C. Circuit, but also because of his role of staff secretary in the White House of George W. Bush and staff secretary is essentially an administrative function under the chief of staff. But it’s the person who controls all the paper that flows between cabinet officials and the president of the United States. So I’ve heard document ranges of what might be requested, anywhere between 800,000 pages and 10 million pages. So who knows what will ultimately be requested, but I think there will be an attempt to try to slow-walk this. The reason I don’t think that will ultimately bear a lot of fruit for opponents of Judge Kavanaugh is because when he was confirmed in 2006 all of the documents pre his judicial seating had all been requested in the past and lots of that has already been vetted once.

NET News: You’ve said you expect Judge Kavanaugh to be “borked” by the opposition, referring to Reagan nominee Robert Bork, whose confirmation failed back in 1987. Why do you say that?

Sasse: Because so many of the outside interest groups and liberal super-PACs had begun spending money and buying TV advertising before they even knew who the nominee was. I was over at the White House with the president before he made the nomination and then I stayed for the ceremony in the East Room and when I came back to my office, the protests over at the Supreme Court were so loud that I decided to wander over in that direction and what you ultimately saw over at the Court was pre-printed signs for four different people. There were sort of rent-a-protest signs ready to go so that people could just build a big, made-for-TV political campaign around this. It sort of begs the question why do we the people think that judges wear black robes? They’re supposed to wear them as a sort of a signal of the deferential, humble role of a judge, to cloak their personal preferences and their partisan views and right now we’re not viewing it that way. We’re viewing it as though these nine people are sort of super-legislators and that’s just a failure of basic schoolhouse rock civics and we should be doing better than that.

NET News: What’s the next step in this confirmation process?

Sasse: I serve on the Judiciary Committee. I’m the first Nebraskan on this committee since the 1970’s, and so that means that one of the blessings and challenges of this calling is an opportunity to do lots and lots of homework. Those documents we talked about and the 300-plus opinions are things that I’ve just begun to dive into. I have two really good legal aids that help me organize those materials and then our hearings will probably begin I would guess in the middle to the last third of August and we’ll have Judiciary Committee hearings and then we’ll move to the full floor. The Supreme Court returns to session the first week of October and I hope we’ve voted before then to confirm or allow the Senate to work its will in response to the president’s nomination before the court reassembles in October.     

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