Rancorous, partisan start for Kavanaugh high court hearing

The week of hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination began with a sense of inevitability that the 53-year-old appellate judge eventually will be confirmed. (AP)
Updated 05 September 2018
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Rancorous, partisan start for Kavanaugh high court hearing

  • In Kavanaugh’s own statement at the end of more than seven hours of arguing, the federal appeals judge spoke repeatedly about the importance of an independent judiciary.
  • The Supreme Court is often thought of as nine separate judges, rather than a team.

WASHINGTON: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh declared fervently at his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday the court “must never, never be viewed as a partisan institution.” But that was at the end of a marathon day marked by rancorous exchanges between Democrats and Republicans, including dire Democratic fears that he would be President Donald Trump’s advocate on the high court.
The week of hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination began with a sense of inevitability that the 53-year-old appellate judge eventually will be confirmed, perhaps in time for the first day of the new term, Oct. 1, and little more than a month before congressional elections.
However, the first of at least four days of hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee began with partisan quarreling over the nomination and persistent protests from members of the audience, followed by their arrests.
Strong Democratic opposition to Trump’s nominee reflects the political stakes for both parties in advance of the November elections, Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign and the potentially pivotal role Kavanaugh could play in moving the court to the right.
Democrats, including several senators poised for 2020 presidential bids, tried to block the proceedings in a dispute over Kavanaugh records withheld by the White House. Republicans in turn accused the Democrats of turning the hearing into a circus.
Trump jumped into the fray late in the day, saying on Twitter that Democrats were “looking to inflict pain and embarrassment” on Kavanaugh.
The president’s comment followed the statements of Democratic senators who warned that Trump was, in the words of Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, “selecting a justice on the Supreme Court who potentially will cast a decisive vote in his own case.”
In Kavanaugh’s own statement at the end of more than seven hours of arguing, the federal appeals judge spoke repeatedly about the importance of an independent judiciary and the need to keep the court above partisan politics, common refrains among Supreme Court nominees that had added salience in the fraught political atmosphere of the moment.
With his wife, two children and parents sitting behind him, Kavanaugh called himself a judge with a straightforward judicial philosophy.
“A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written. A judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent,” he said.
Kavanaugh also promised to be “a team player on the Team of Nine.”
The Supreme Court is often thought of as nine separate judges, rather than a team. And on the most contentious cases, the court tends to split into conservative and liberal sides. But justices often do say they seek consensus, and they like to focus on how frequently they reach unanimous decisions.
Barring a major surprise over the next two days of questioning, the committee is expected to vote along party lines to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate.
Majority Republicans can confirm Kavanaugh without any Democratic votes, though they’ll have little margin for error.
“There are battles worth fighting, regardless of the outcome,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said in an unsparing opening statement that criticized Kavanaugh’s judicial opinions and the Senate process that Democrats said had deprived them of access to records of important chunks of Kavanaugh’s time as an aide to President George W. Bush.
Democrats raised objections from the moment Chairman Chuck Grassley gaveled the committee to order. One by one, Democrats, including Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, all potential presidential contenders, demanded that Republicans delay the hearing. They railed against the unusual vetting process by Republicans that failed to include documents from three years Kavanaugh worked in the Bush administration, and 100,000 more pages withheld by the Trump White House. Some 42,000 pages were released on the evening before of the hearing.
“We cannot possibly move forward, Mr. Chairman, with this hearing,” said Harris at the top of proceedings. Grassley disagreed.
As protesters repeatedly interrupted the session, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who is fighting for his own re-election in Texas, apologized to Kavanaugh for the spectacle he said had less to do about the judge’s legal record than Trump in the White House.
“It is about politics,” said Cruz. “It is about Democratic senators re-litigating the 2016 election.”
The Republicans’ slim majority in the Senate was bolstered during the hearing by the announcement from Arizona that Gov. Doug Ducey was appointing Jon Kyl, the former senator, to fill the seat held by the late Sen. John McCain. When Kyl is sworn in, Republicans will hold 51 of the 100 seats.
Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are the only two Republicans even remotely open to voting against Kavanaugh, though neither has said she would do so. Abortion rights supporters are trying to appeal to those senators, who both favor abortion access.
Kavanaugh sat silently and impassively for most of the day, occasionally sipping water and taking notes on senators’ points. Besides his family, he was accompanied by outgoing White House Counsel Don McGahn and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Several dozen protesters, shouting one by one, disrupted the hearing at several points and were removed by police. “This is a mockery and a travesty of justice,” shouted one woman. “Cancel Brett Kavanaugh!” Others shouted against the president or to protect abortion access. “Senators, we need to stop this,” called out one.
As patience thinned and tempers flared, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, denounced what he called the “mob rule.” Struggling to speak over protesters, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said: “These people are so out of line they shouldn’t be in the doggone room.”
But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, told Kavanaugh the opposition being shown at the hearing reflected the concern many Americans have over Trump’s “contempt of the rule of law” and the judge’s own expansive views on executive power.
“It’s that president who’s decided you are his man,” Durbin said. “Are people nervous about this concerned about this? Of course they are.”
The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, described the hearing’s “very unique circumstances.”
“Not only is the country deeply divided politically, we also find ourselves with a president who faces his own serious problems,” she said referring to investigations surrounding Trump. “So it’s this backdrop that this nominee comes into.”


Japan’s ruling coalition secures upper house majority

Updated 21 July 2019
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Japan’s ruling coalition secures upper house majority

  • “I believe the people chose political stability, urging us to pursue our policies and carry out diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interests,” Abe said

TOKYO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition secured a majority in Japan’s upper house of parliament in elections Sunday but will not reach the super-majority needed to propose constitutional revisions, according to vote counts by public television and other media.
NHK public television said shortly after midnight that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner Komeito had won 69 seats in the upper house, with nine seats remaining. If Abe gained support from members of another conservative party and independents, it would make only 76 seats, short of 85 he would have needed, NHK said.
Abe’s ruling bloc already has a two-thirds majority in the lower house, but without such control of the upper chamber, he has a slim chance of achieving his long-cherished goal of constitutional reform.
Nonetheless, Abe welcomed the results, saying winning a majority indicates a public mandate for his government.
“I believe the people chose political stability, urging us to pursue our policies and carry out diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interests,” Abe said in an interview with NHK.
Abe hopes to gain enough seats to boost his chances to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution — his long-cherished goal before his term ends in 2021.
But it’s a challenge because voters are more concerned about their jobs, economy and social security. Abe, who wants to bolster Japan’s defense capability, is now proposing adding the Self-Defense Force, or Japan’s military, to the war-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution. He said he is not considering running for another term.
Abe said resolving the decades-old issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea and signing a peace treaty with Russia would be his diplomatic priorities during the rest of his term.
Opposition parties have focused on concerns over household finances, such as the impact from an upcoming 10% sales tax increase and strains on the public pension system amid Japan’s aging population.
Abe has led his Liberal Democratic Party to five consecutive parliamentary election victories since 2012.
He has prioritized revitalizing Japan’s economy and has steadily bolstered the country’s defenses in the backdrop of North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats and China’s growing military presence. He also has showcased his diplomatic skills by cultivating warm ties with President Donald Trump.
Abe needs approval by a two-thirds majority in both houses to propose a constitutional revision and seek a national referendum. His ruling bloc has a two-thirds majority in the more powerful lower house.
The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and three other liberal-leaning parties teamed up in some districts. They stressed support for gender equality and LGBT issues — areas Abe’s ultra-conservative lawmakers are reluctant to back.
At a polling station in Tokyo’s Chuo district on Sunday, voters were divided over Abe’s 6 1/2-year rule.
A voter who identified himself only as a company worker in his 40s said he chose a candidate and a party that have demonstrated an ability to get things done, suggesting he voted for Abe’s ruling party and its candidate, as “there is no point in casting my vote for a party or a politician who has no such abilities.”
Another voter, Katsunori Takeuchi, a 57-year-old fish market worker, said it was time to change the dominance of Abe and his ultra-conservative policies.
“I think the ruling party has been dominating politics for far too long and it is causing damage,” he said.