WASHINGTON — Minnesota’s two U.S. senators are joining fellow Democrats in raising concerns about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, even as Republicans urge a quick confirmation for President Donald Trump’s high court pick.
For Democrats, Kavanaugh’s nomination has raised concerns about a more conservative court majority that could undermine legal abortion and laws guaranteeing access to health care. And a 2012 article that Kavanaugh wrote for the Minnesota Law Review has raised concerns for some about his views on separation of powers.
In that article, Kavanaugh wrote that “the constitution establishes a clear mechanism to deter executive malfeasance; we should not burden a sitting president with civil suits, criminal investigations or criminal prosecutions.”
Democrats including Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith see a threat to many progressive ideals with Kavanaugh on the high court. Standing on the Supreme Court steps at a Monday night rally, Smith accused Trump of picking the D.C. federal appeals judge from a list drawn up by “far right ideologues” who believe he’ll cast the deciding vote on overturning legalized abortion under Roe v. Wade.
“It’s clear that President Trump, the Heritage Foundation, and the Federalist Society believe they can count on Judge Kavanaugh to cast that decisive fifth vote to overturn Roe, dismantle basic consumer protections in our health care laws, and gut regulations that protect workers and the environment,” Smith said at the rally, according to remarks provided by her office.
Later, she said, “I am here tonight because I’m a United States senator. But I’m also the only senator who has ever worked at Planned Parenthood. And I know that when women do not have the freedom to make their own choices about their reproductive health care, they have lost the freedom to direct their own lives.”
State Sen. Karin Housley, the Republican frontrunner to run for Smith’s Senate seat this November, called Kavanaugh an “excellent choice” on Trump’s part.
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“At a time when our nation’s founding principles are increasingly called into question, Judge Kavanaugh will make a tremendous addition to the high court,” Housley said in a statement, in which she said Smith “has shown she is in lockstep with the radical, left-wing brand of Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter that she was concerned that Kavanaugh had ruled that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was unconstitutional, and that he cast a dissenting vote against net neutrality. She added that’s “in addition to the obvious health care and separation of power issues.”
Kavanaugh has pushed back on the authority of independent agencies, and in his dissent on the consumer bureau wrote that they “pose a significant threat to individual liberty and to the constitutional system of separation of powers and checks and balances.” He dissented in a 2011 ruling upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare’s individual mandate requiring every citizen to have health insurance.
Kavanaugh worked under special proseutor Kenneth Starr while he was investigating President Bill Clinton in the nineties. But in his Minnesota Law Review article, he suggested he had changed his mind about the proceedings that led to Clinton’s impeachment. Kavanaugh wrote that a president who is concerned about an ongoing criminal investigation will do a worse job and suggested that civil suits be deferred until after the president leaves office.
“Looking back to the late 1990s, for example, the nation certainly would have been better off if President Clinton could have focused on Osama bin Laden without being distracted by the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and its criminal investigation offshoots,” Kavanaugh wrote.
His comments are sure to get attention as special prosecutor Robert Mueller investigates possible links between the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Kavanaugh suggested that Congress consider a law exempting a president while in office from criminal prosecution and investigation, adding, “Criminal investigations targeted at or revolving around a president are inevitably politicized by both their supporters and critics.”
Smith, siding with many other Democrats, said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should hold himself to the same standard he set in 2016, when he did not hold a hearing or vote on President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, during an election year. Democrats want Republicans to wait until after November’s mid-term elections, in hopes that the party may lose its lock on Congress.
“I agree — the American people deserve a chance to weigh in on this critically important decision, because the decisions of the Supreme Court affect us all,” Smith said.
Republicans currently control the Senate 51-49, though Democrats are hoping to win over moderates like Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Republicans are hoping to win a few votes from Democratic senators facing tough reelection campaigns in red states, including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.