Beyond the Bubble

While Kavanaugh turns D.C. into a circus, frustrated states take aim at Washington

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trumps nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, during the third day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 6, 2018. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trumps nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, during the third day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 6, 2018. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times) NYT

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WASHINGTON — The Senate’s rushed Supreme Court hearings are jarring some legal experts who say the political theatrics are distracting from massive changes in the way justices are vetted.

On this week’s episode of Beyond the Bubble, Margaret Russell, a law professor at Santa Clara University in California, likened the expedited process to moving up a presidential election and giving voters a month to make their decision.

“There’s so much information that has not been released about this nominee,” said Russell. “It may very well be that once it’s released the vote might be the same, but the lack of process is shocking.”

Democrats currently control 49 seats in the Senate, and need 51 votes to stop President Donald Trump’s nominee from being confirmed. They’ve used the hearings to take shots at Republicans who want to finish Kavanaugh’s confirmation process before the November election, citing the court’s October 1 start date for hearing new cases.

“We need to look at the Kavanaugh hearing in a different light,” said Russell, who criticized both parties’ behavior in the confirmation hearings last week. “I think that there is a very district difference [from past nominees] in what’s being withheld from the public, perhaps because there is so much public attention and scrutiny in an election year.”

“Given that this is a lifetime seat,” added Russell, “I think this is as serious as if voters were being told the election was going to be held one month in advance.”

President Donald Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on Monday night. Born in Washington, D.C., Kavanaugh has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since 2006.

Also in this episode of Beyond the Bubble, Robert Henneke, chief lawyer for the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, defends a Texas-led Obamacare lawsuit that national Republicans fear could hurt their chances this November.

The lawsuit seeks to gut the rest of the health care law, a promise Republicans have campaigned on for nearly a decade. It does so by taking aim at one of the law’s most popular provisions — requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions — something GOP leaders have sought to distance themselves from in Washington.

Henneke told BtB he hasn’t been asked by GOP leaders to back off the lawsuit, which is now in the hands of a U.S. District Court in North Texas.

“Certainly among the conservative organizations… and the grassroots… they’re very excited that Texas has stepped up… to deliver on this promise that’s been out there for eight or so years,” said Henneke, who represents private citizens in the case along with the state of Texas.

Pointing to the 2016 presidential election, Henneke said “there’s quite a bit of disappointment” with Washington’s inability to solve the country’s biggest problems. His approach, shared by the 20 states on the lawsuit, would pitch health care issues back to the states to solve.

“I hope that that is the shift,” said Henneke. “Not just in disappointment with D.C., but in recognizing, appropriately, that the solutions are not going to come from the federal government.”

McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble show is produced by Jordan-Marie Smith and Davin Coburn. Alex Roarty, a national political correspondent for McClatchy, and Andrea Drusch, Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recorded this episode at McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, September 11, 2018.
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