Washington • The Senate Judiciary Committee begins its confirmation hearings Tuesday on President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. With a GOP majority in the chamber, Kavanaugh’s hearings are largely perfunctory but will showcase the bitter divide in the current political climate and the leftover resentment by Democrats of Republicans denying President Barack Obama’s last high court nominee a hearing.
Here’s a primer on what you’ll see in the coming days:
How does the confirmation process work?
The Judiciary Committee will start off Tuesday with cheerleaders for Kavanaugh, who would replace retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy if confirmed. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Lisa Blatt, a self-described liberal feminist and a partner at the law firm Arnold and Porter, will speak on his behalf.
The hearings are likely to last three to four days, with Kavanaugh expected to face questions later in the week. Judiciary Committee members will take turns asking Kavanaugh about his legal career and positions on settled law and how he would rule in certain circumstances.
In the end, the GOP-led committee will vote and send the nominee to the full Senate for confirmation.
Will Kavanaugh be confirmed?
Nothing is guaranteed in Washington, but the GOP holds a small majority in the Senate and some red-state Democrats are expected to support Kavanaugh just ahead of the midterm elections. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who supports abortion rights, is a key vote but has signaled that she'd back the nominee after he told her that Roe v. Wade was “settled law.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat in a tough re-election campaign, hasn’t said how he’ll vote on the nomination, but he’s under increasing pressure to support Kavanaugh.
Most Democrats, though, are on record against the nominee.
“I will oppose him with everything I’ve got,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York told CBS News.
What role will Utah’s senators play?
Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee are both members of the committee and are expected to do what they can to see Kavanaugh confirmed to the high court. Hatch will play a leading role as a former chairman of the committee and the senior Republican in the Senate.
The senior senator is helping to shepherd the nominee through the process and will be a vocal defender.
“Judge Kavanaugh is an outstanding choice,” Hatch said when the nomination was announced.
Hatch — who had praised Merrick Garland, Obama’s choice to fill the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the court but then stood with Republicans to deny him a hearing — has said he’ll lift “heaven and earth” to get Kavanaugh confirmed.
Lee, who had been on Trump’s short list for the high court, has signaled that he’d favor the nominee.
“His insight into the current state of the law and the Constitution," Lee said, “shows he is just the kind of originalist jurist we need on the court.”
What are the sticking points?
Democrats have complained that the White House is unwilling to release records from Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary to former President George W. Bush, including Friday’s decision to withhold 100,000 pages, citing executive privilege.
“President Trump’s decision to step in at the last moment and hide 100,000 pages of Judge Kavanaugh’s records from the American public is not only unprecedented in the history of Supreme Court nominations, it has all the makings of a cover-up,” Schumer said Saturday. “Republicans in the Senate and the president of the United States are colluding to keep Judge Kavanaugh’s records secret, and trying to hide their actions from the American people by doing it on the Friday night of a holiday weekend. What are they trying so desperately to hide?”
Republicans argue back that the number of documents released ahead of Kavanuagh’s hearing is unprecedented, noting the 440,000 pages so far are more than any past nominee. Only 6,300 documents, they say, were released before the confirmation of Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
What is the impact on the court?
Kennedy was long known as the swing vote on the Supreme Court. He would side with conservatives on some issues, liberals on others. Kavanaugh is expected to move the court more to the right and affix Trump’s legacy in affecting the judiciary.
With last year's confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, Trump will now likely have two of his picks on the high court within two years of his presidency.
Obama also got to pick two during his eight years in office, Sotomayor and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. (Garland would have been a third justice on the court had the Senate confirmed him.)
Bush got two people on the bench, including Chief Justice John Roberts. President Bill Clinton also got two picks to the court. President George H.W. Bush had two as well. President Ronald Reagan was able to get five of his choices on the court. President Jimmy Carter didn’t get any.