Kavanaugh questioners get personal, get answers
We now know Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh is bad luck for the Washington Nationals, that he seemed nervous before his first date with the woman who would become his wife, and that he has never been treated for a gambling addition — in case anyone was curious.
And it turns out that some people were curious.
Among the more than 1,200 written questions Democrats submitted to President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee were queries about his poker-playing habits, his affinity for attending baseball games and his less-than-flush personal finances, all tucked inside more traditional questions about judicial precedent and his own lengthy record.
In written responses, Judge Kavanaugh brushed aside many of the legal inquiries, refused to criticize Mr. Trump and declined to say when he would recuse himself from cases — just as he did in his in-person testimony a week earlier.
What he did do though, and in some detail, was answer questions about his personal finances and the house in Chevy Chase, Maryland, that seems to be eating up a lot of his money.
He went line by line through his home repairs, describing his money pit house that has forced him to replace the air conditioning and water heater, buy a new oven and refrigerator, stop basement flooding, repaint inside and outside, repair fences and remove mold.
He also revealed that he bought season tickets to the local baseball team from 2005 to 2017 — including tickets for every postseason home game — and that he seems to bring bad luck: “We are 3-8 in those games.”
“My wife and I spend money on our daughters and sports,” he said, adding in Nixonian “Checkers” speech fashion that they recently joined the tony Chevy Chase Country Club “primarily because of the ice hockey program that my younger daughter participates in.”
The questions — and the personal details they elicited — represented another sign of how different this particular confirmation has been.
Senators posed a total of 1,287 written questions, and all but nine of them were from Democrats.
Thomas Jipping, a former Republican Party staffer who is now at The Heritage Foundation and who has been involved in 11 confirmations, said Democrats were essentially attempting to have a second hearing for the judge.
“It’s not only the sheer number of questions, but it’s the focus on what the senators know Kavanaugh cannot answer or provide, and that no nominee can answer or provide,” Mr. Jipping said. “They know that, and they’re intentionally asking dozens or hundreds of questions that no nominee can answer. There’s no way to describe that other than recklessly irresponsible.”
In most of those cases, Judge Kavanaugh replied with some version saying it would be “improper” to offer thoughts on a case that might come before him, either as a justice or even in his current job on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
A few of questions did spur informative answers, though.
In one substantive exchange with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, Judge Kavanaugh said he will not release reporters from their confidentiality agreements with him during his time serving on the independent counsel’s investigation into the Clintons.
During the hearing last week, he acknowledged having served as an anonymous source for reporters at the direction of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. Prodded by senators, he said he would have to think about whether he would release those reporters from their obligation to protect him as a confidential source.
But in his written answers this week, he said he would not release them — for the reporters’ own good.
“It would be inappropriate in this context to disregard that foundational privilege and protection for the press,” he wrote.
The 1,287 written questions asked of Judge Kavanaugh are more than all previous high court nominees combined, Republicans said. They come on top of four days of hearings last week in which the judge sat for two full days of in-person questions.
Carolyn Shapiro, co-director of the Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, said Judge Kavanaugh was more open about judicial philosophy questions than some past nominees but still avoided issues he should have been willing to discuss.
She said one of those was his past comments on abortion — and particularly praise for then-Justice William H. Rehnquist’s dissent in the landmark Roe v. Wade case that made abortion a constitutional right. She said she was troubled that Judge Kavanaugh wouldn’t defend or explain those sentiments.
She also said she thought the judge mischaracterized his own dissent in a case involving an illegal immigrant teen seeking an abortion while in government care.
“What he said about his opinion in that case, I don’t think was entirely accurate,” she said.
She said nominees shouldn’t be required to give assurances about future rulings but he appeared to be stretching the limits of what has become known as the “Ginsburg standard” of refusing to discuss cases in any detail at all.
Judge Kavanaugh repeatedly declined to comment on major legal battles, citing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others who he said had similarly demurred. More than 70 times in his written answers this week, he cited “nominee precedent” for declining to answer.
Ms. Shapiro said looking back at Justice Ginsburg’s hearing, she was far more willing to talk about her past writings than Judge Kavanaugh was about his.
“As a general matter, I think that nominees should speak candidly about things,” she said.
Ms. Shapiro did say the questions from senators about Judge Kavanaugh’s financial history didn’t cross any lines.
Those questions came chiefly from Mr. Whitehouse, who prodded the judge about debts shown on financial disclosures.
“Have you ever gambled or accrued gambling debt in the state of New Jersey?” asked Mr. Whitehouse.
The judge said he occasionally visited casinos there in college or in his 20s and “played low-stakes blackjack” — and never ran up any debt.
Mr. Whitehouse continued: “Have you ever sought treatment for a gambling addiction?” “No,” the judge wrote. Mr. Whitehouse concluded his line
Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh received a total of 1,287 written questions from senators. All but nine of them were from Democrats. The questions — and the personal details they elicited — showed how different this confirmation has been.