Washington – When President Donald Trump nominated federal judge Neil Gorsuch to fill an open seat on the Supreme Court last year, Connecticut’s Democratic senators waited two months before deciding to vote against the candidate.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, received a “courtesy” visit from Gorsuch that resulted in a Twitter war with Trump after the senator said the judge told him the president’s attacks on the judiciary were “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” Blumenthal went on to grill Gorsuch during his nomination hearing before deciding to vote “no.”
Sen. Chris Murphy said he wanted to review the more than 20 hours of questioning of Gorsuch in the Senate Judiciary committee before making up his mind. Then Murphy also opposed the nominee. At that point, about 20 of his Democratic colleagues had already come out in opposition.
But on Monday night, almost immediately after Trump announced his pick of federal judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, Connecticut’s senators rushed to be among the first to say on the record they will oppose the nomination.
There’s a reason for their haste.
Gorsuch was selected to replace former Justice Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly. Scalia was one of the most dependable conservatives on the court, so replacing him with another conservative, Gorsuch, would not tilt its ideological balance.
But Kavanaugh would replace Kennedy, who sometimes voted with the liberals on the court, even though he mostly joined his fellow conservative justices.
“Judge Gorsuch had a different record and different writings,” Blumenthal said Tuesday, explaining his immediate rejection of Kavanaugh. “This is filling a different seat. This is a swing seat.”
Blumenthal also said that Kavanaugh was a known entity, and on a list of potential Supreme Court nominees drawn up for Trump by the conservative Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation.
“He was screened and vetted by right-wing groups that made the president a puppet,” Blumenthal said.
Trump’s ability to tilt the high court to the right is now a campaign issue and a way to raise campaign cash for liberal Democrats – as well as conservative Republicans. Kavanaugh’s nomination battle in the run-up to November’s midterm elections is infused with politics.
In the hopes of wresting the Senate from GOP control, Connecticut’s senators joined most other Senate Democrats in calling for Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote to be held after the midterm elections. It is a futile effort.
Senate Republicans have pledged a swift confirmation process that would put Kavanaugh on the bench before the new term begins Oct. 1 – and there is little Democrats can do to stop them.
That doesn’t mean they won’t try.
Like other Democrats, Blumenthal and Murphy are framing the fight over Kavanaugh as one about protecting civil rights and access to abortion. Connecticut’s senators are also warning that Kavanaugh could hear cases that would undermine the Affordable Care Act and the state’s tough gun laws.
Blumenthal has also raised the concern that Kavanaugh could hear cases that will test whether the president can defy a subpoena, pardon his friends or himself, or fire a special counsel.
“I have reviewed his record and the more I review those records and writings the more I’m persuaded that they signal hostility to rights and liberties that are precious to all Americans,” Blumenthal said.
Murphy called the nominee “a radical, anti-consumer, anti-woman jurist.”
“On issue after issue, Judge Kavanaugh is a dream for the far right, and a nightmare for hard-working families in Connecticut,” Murphy said.
On Tuesday, Murphy spoke on the Senate floor of the threat Kavanaugh poses to the Affordable Care Act, which is being challenged in a Texas federal court.
The case, which could go to the Supreme Court, was filed by governors from conservative states who want to eliminate some ACA provisions, including the prohibition on insurers denying coverage to people with pre-exising health conditions.
“The likelihood that they will take away your health care if you have any of these preexisting conditions is radically increased if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed,” Murphy warned.
In remarks Monday night after his nomination, Kavanaugh seemed to anticipate lines of attack from Democrats. He spoke of his mother’s work as a teacher in predominantly African-American public schools in Washington, D.C., and his hiring of a diverse collection of law clerks, most of them women.
“I will tell each senator that I revere the Constitution. I believe that an independent judiciary is the crown jewel of our constitutional republic,” he said. “If confirmed by the Senate, I will keep an open mind in every case.”
To defeat Kavanaugh, Democrats would need to forge a united front against the nominee and flip at least one Republican against him, a steep challenge. Republican have a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate.
“All we need is one,” Blumenthal said, if ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is unable to attend the Senate confirmation vote.
Blumenthal said the strategy is to persuade voters to influence a Republican senator or two, most likely moderate Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, or Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to vote against Kavanaugh.
“The Republicans are in control of the Senate, but the American people are on our side,” Blumenthal said.
Both the Blumenthal and Murphy campaigns are collecting signatures on petitions in opposition to Kavanaugh.
Democrats could also try to slow Kavanaugh’s confirmation by demanding to review hundreds of thousands of White House records pertaining to the nominee’s two years spent in President George W. Bush’s White House counsel’s office and just over three as Bush’s staff secretary.
Meanwhile, Kavanaugh visited the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday with Vice President Mike Pence to begin his series of courtesy calls to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and other key senators.
Blumenthal said he does not know if he will receive a visit from Kavanaugh.