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Democrats Push For More Records On Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh


When a president names a nominee to the Supreme Court, obviously both sides want to learn as much as they can about that person. President Trump's nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, has not only served more than a decade on the bench, he also had a long career in Republican politics, including serving as President George W. Bush's staff secretary. Democrats are demanding documents from that particular time, and Republicans say those documents won't be relevant, which raises the question - how has this worked before? Kristine Lucius spent 14 years with the Senate Judiciary Committee as Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy's top legal adviser. Welcome.

KRISTINE LUCIUS: Thank you so much.

CHANG: In that job, you worked on, I understand, six Supreme Court nominations, going from John Roberts all the way to Neil Gorsuch. Was there ever any dispute while you were there on the committee over documents, over the scope of what was to be produced?

LUCIUS: Yes, absolutely. I recall there being a bipartisan request for both Elena Kagan's documents and Sonia Sotomayor's documents. In that instance, Jeff Sessions was the ranking member, Patrick Leahy was the chairman, and they worked together to request a full set of Elena Kagan's White House records from when she had been in the previous presidential administration, the Clinton administration. We did not get every single document we asked for. We asked for not just everything she had written, everything she had received, we also asked for any documents that she had even been referred to. That last set is what we did not ultimately receive. But what that says to you is the chair and ranking were working together in a bipartisan way to request that the Senate get as many documents as possible.

CHANG: So what jumps out to you - this dispute with respect to Kavanaugh's nomination over his documents, what jumps out to you as quite different from how document disputes or discussions about what documents will be turned over, how those discussions were handled in the past?

LUCIUS: I can say unequivocally what we're seeing with this process is the most partisan and the most reckless one I've seen because what we had here was the chairman on Friday night sending a partisan letter - there was no working with the ranking member to do this request, but he made a request that just ignored three years of the nominee's political appointee record.

CHANG: That's Kavanaugh's years as staff secretary under President George W. Bush. But their argument is, you know, staff secretary is more of this administrative or organizational job, that those years are not as relevant as Kavanaugh's years on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

LUCIUS: That is pure spin. Judge Kavanaugh himself said under oath in his own confirmation hearing that his time as staff secretary to President Bush was the most useful to him as a judge. And what I am very concerned about is the people who selected him for the Supreme Court know what's in that record. But the American people and the 100 senators who are now evaluating him won't have access to the very same record.

CHANG: What substantive understanding of Kavanaugh might we glean from his years while he served as staff secretary to President Bush?

LUCIUS: There were a range of controversies that we believe he was involved in during these years, and they include things like torture, domestic surveillance and discrimination in marriage, whether to add that to the United States Constitution.

CHANG: It is clear, however, that the vast majority of Senate Democrats are going to vote no on Brett Kavanaugh regardless of how many documents get turned over. So why even mount such an extensive document request? I mean, the other side says this is just a political tactic to stall the process. The outcome is not going to change.

LUCIUS: I think the outcome actually would change if every senator and the American people get to see these documents because I think even...

CHANG: What makes you so sure that there's something that damning in the documents?

LUCIUS: Because there are many controversies that I believe he was involved in and because senators, at the end of the day, care about issues that affect their state, and they should not want to have records hidden from them.

CHANG: Is there any way for Democrats to get the documents they're seeking even if Republicans refuse to help?

LUCIUS: So yes. There are ways to get them. The question is whether the chairman is going to go it alone and schedule a hearing before there would be time to review documents. I believe these documents, in the end, will come out. However, I just don't understand why the chairman of a committee would not want to seek any relevant documents from a three-year period. That principle on its face shows that they're concerned about what controversies would be in that record. And I think that should trouble everyone on both sides of the aisle.

CHANG: Kristine Lucius spent a decade and a half as Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy's top legal adviser on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thank you very much for joining us.

LUCIUS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.