U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) warned of the potential for a wide range of public policy setbacks if Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh is elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he urged progressive leaders in Maryland to reach out to allies in other states before the Senate votes on his nomination.
“This is not a mainstream nomination. This is person who has an agenda,” Cardin said. “This is an issue that we can only win if the American people recognize that it’s their rights that are at risk against the powerful.”
Kavanaugh, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was nominated to the high court by President Trump on July 9. If confirmed, he would take the seat left vacant by the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a frequent swing vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has announced that confirmation hearings will begin on Sept. 4.
Cardin made his comments earlier this week, at a roundtable discussion held at the Prince George’s African-American Museum in North Brentwood, and is holding similar forums across the state. He was joined at the museum by advocates for the environment, voting rights, women’s health and reproductive freedoms, health care and other issues.
After a lengthy discussion of Kavanaugh’s rulings and writings, Cardin apologized for seeming so glum. “I wish I had some good news here but every case we look at he’s on the wrong side of these issues.”
Cardin and many of those who spoke expressed concern about possible rollbacks in environmental protections, consumer regulations, affirmative action, abortion rights and access to the ballot box. He said Texas v. United States, a case involving insurance protections for people with preexisting health conditions, is a huge concern with Kavanaugh on the bench.
The 53-year-old Kavanaugh, a favorite of conservatives, lives in Montgomery County. He was recommended to Trump by the Federalist Society, an organization founded by conservative law students at Yale University in the early 1980s.
Cardin accused McConnell of “hypocrisy” for scheduling hearings before lawmakers have received documents from the nominee’s past. He noted that when Elena Kagan, who had worked in the Clinton White House and as solicitor general in the Obama administration, was nominated for the high court, Republicans insisted that her paper trail be made public before the Senate cast its vote.
“What the Republicans requested — and the Democrats agreed that it was appropriate to do — was to supply every document that Justice Kagan participated in when she was in the White House,” he said. “And that information was made available to the Senate before the confirmation hearings took place. It took several months for those documents to be compiled and analyzed and reviewed before we had the nomination hearing.”
“The process that’s being used here is totally outrageous,” Cardin said. “It’s an affront to the traditions of the United States Senate.”
Democrats are in the minority in the Senate, and with recent GOP rules changes limiting the use of the filibuster on judicial appointments, their chances of blocking Kavanaugh appear bleak.
To have any shot, Cardin said, Democrats must find two Republicans willing to insist that a vote come only after documents from Kavanaugh’s past be made public. He identified Alaska and Maine, two states with moderate GOP senators, as “key.”
Arizona and Tennessee are also “prime states,” Cardin said.
In addition, Cardin said, there are nine states that also merit attention, because they have Democratic senators who voted last year for Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch (Indiana, West Virginia and North Dakota), are swing states Trump carried in 2016 (Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) or are simply “toss-ups” this election cycle (Montana, Missouri and Florida).
“You have networks that work beyond the state of Maryland,” Cardin told the group. “You may know people in other states. You may have organizations in other states. You may have state legislative friends in other states. Whatever you have, you gotta use.”
He said that Kavanaugh poses a unique threat to the nation because of his belief in almost limitless president power.
“[With] the Mueller investigation there are going to be issues concerning whether the president can pardon himself or others, whether he has to submit documents, whether he has to testify. Those issues are going to work themselves to the Supreme Court of the United States, so this is very much an issue.”
Cardin said the recent withdrawal of Ryan Bounds, a controversial Trump judicial nominee from Oregon, offered some room for optimism.
“We were able to block a nomination to the Court of Appeals, the second highest court… of a clear racist who was scheduled for a vote. McConnell had the votes, but we were able to put a spotlight on his record to show that he’s a racist. And we got one Republican senator to say, ‘wait a minute, this doesn’t look right, how can I support this person?’ — and then two or three Republican senators joined that one senator. At the end of the day, Mitch McConnell had to pull the nomination.”
As he concluded his remarks, Cardin struck an urgent tone, saying “you have to focus on this.”
“Things are going to happen every day with this administration that are going to take the headlines. We’ve got to focus on the Supreme Court nominee. The clock is running. The hearing is set. We don’t have a lot of time.”