People For the American Way

Senators Schumer, Feinstein and Durbin Host Press Conference with Allied Groups to Address Republican Efforts to Hide Kavanaugh’s Critical Record

News and Analysis

On July 27, as part of the vetting procedure for all Supreme Court nominees, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley requested  records from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s tenure in the White House counsel’s office. However, Grassley’s request notably excluded Kavanaugh’s work as staff secretary. In addition, the process in place to review the limited set of documents that have been requested is an unprecedented, partisan one. In response to both the omission of critical records and the partisan nature of the review process, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., held a press conference on July 31 with allied groups, including People For the American Way, to address the abandonment of bipartisan precedent by Republican leadership.

Sen. Schumer called out the aggressive level of obstruction by Chairman Grassley, noting that his unilateral request for only a small portion of documents from Kavanaugh’s White House career circumvents the role of the 99 other senators who need to properly vet the Supreme Court nominee. Schumer also pointed out that William Burck, a partisan lawyer for President George W. Bush, whose clients also include Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Don McGahn is prescreening the documents to determine what Congress and the American people will be allowed to see. Schumer underscored that nothing like this has ever happened in the history of Supreme Court nominations, and asked, “What are they hiding?”

Sen. Feinstein, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, emphasized the importance of the role of the White House staff secretary, noting that it’s a top advisor to the president who writes key memos and participates closely in creating legislation and policy. Feinstein underlined that these missing documents could provide insight into Kavanaugh’s knowledge and stances on issues that he worked on in the Bush White House, including the CIA’s torture program. She stressed that vetting a Supreme Court nominee is the most important task of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and reiterated that the public is “entitled to know what [Kavanaugh] believes, what he’s written and what he’s said, particularly in any formal capacity.” She also explained that she has written directly to the Archives seeking the records that Grassley’s request excluded.

Sen. Durbin called attention to the double standard being employed by Senate Republicans given their treatment of Elena Kagan’s White House record during her confirmation process in 2010. He reminded the audience that Kagan’s record was produced with a bipartisan request and questioned why Republican leadership has now decided to change the rules and abandoned the standard of disclosure and transparency. Durbin emphasized the importance of a careful review of Kavanaugh’s record particularly because his potential lifetime seat on the Supreme Court would impact the lives of generations of Americans.

Kristine Lucius, executive vice president for policy and governmental affairs at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, reiterated Kavanaugh’s own words that his years as staff secretary were “among the most interesting and most instructive” to his time as a judge. Daniel Goldberg, legal director at the Alliance for Justice, again quoted Kavanaugh, saying his job in the White House was critical and he would frequently “give recommendations and advice to the president…whether the subject was terrorism insurance or Medicare prescription drug coverage… [He] spent a good deal of time on Capitol Hill, sometimes in the middle of the night working on legislation.” It is important to review these documents to understand whether Kavanaugh worked towards putting discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in the Constitution, advocated for abortion ban legislation, opposed hate crime policies, or contributed to the escalation of the “war on terror.”

Elliot Mincberg, senior fellow at PFAW, recalled his more than 30 years of work on judicial nominations and said that he’s never seen a more partisan and restrictive process for the production and review of documents by an administration. Kavanaugh’s dissent record from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reflects some of his work in the White House and underlies the importance of getting the documents from his time as staff secretary. Mincberg drew attention to the thousands of substantive documents that are critical for the Senate and the American people to review if Kavanaugh’s confirmation process is to move forward.

Sen. Schumer urged all Americans to tell their senators that they want to see all documents and they want a full examination of Brett Kavanaugh’s career. The Senate’s constitutional responsibility remains crucial; Brett Kavanaugh’s full record as a conservative political operative needs to be released to ensure he receives a proper review by the Senate Judiciary Committee and by the American people.