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Supreme Court Nominee Kavanaugh Finishes 2 Days Of Testimony


Today, a Senate committee hears additional witnesses about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh himself weathered two days of questioning. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports on what the public learned.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: The array of witnesses scheduled to testify today is diverse and interesting. Among those testifying for Kavanaugh will be former Solicitors General Ted Olson and Paul Clement, who served with the nominee in the George W. Bush administration, and professor Akhil Amar, a generally liberal constitutional scholar at Yale Law School. Also testifying will be the chairman of the American Bar Association committee that evaluates judicial nominees and gave Kavanaugh its highest rating. Democrats have called John Dean, who served as White House counsel to President Nixon and ultimately cooperated with prosecutors to help bring an end to Nixon's presidency. He has since become an advocate of presidential accountability and a harsh critic of President Trump's.

Yesterday, Democrats finally got some attention for their complaints about the way the Kavanaugh papers from his years in the Bush White House have been handled by the Republican majority. But when the documents were released, they didn't quite live up to the hype of hidden secrets. And try as they might, Democrats could not get Kavanaugh to say much. Here, for instance, is New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who noted that Kavanagh has repeatedly said he has the greatest respect for President Bush, something the nominee would not say about President Trump.


CORY BOOKER: You can't even say if you have great respect for Donald Trump.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: You don't hear sitting judges commenting on political commentary.

BOOKER: I'm just asking you what you said about President Bush in the last time you were before the United States Senate. Do you have the greatest respect for Donald Trump?

KAVANAUGH: I appreciate the question. And what I've said during this process is I need to stay away...

TOTENBERG: This week's hearings have focused and refocused on which Supreme Court cases Kavanaugh was willing to say were correctly decided. One of the few in that category, Brown v. the Board of Education, which reversed the Supreme Court's 1896 decision upholding racial segregation. So California Democrat Kamala Harris tried another one, the 1889 decision upholding a ban on Chinese people entering the U.S. The court said then that the Chinese were, quote, "impossible to assimilate with our own people" and were, quote, "immigrating in numbers approaching an invasion."


KAMALA HARRIS: Was the United States Supreme Court correct in holding that Chinese people could be banned from entering our country?

KAVANAUGH: Senator, the cases in the 1890s, as you know...

HARRIS: 1889, to be specific.

KAVANAUGH: ...OK - in that era reflects discriminatory attitudes by the Supreme Court. Of course, that's the era also of Plessy v. Ferguson.

HARRIS: So would you be willing to say that that was incorrectly decided?

KAVANAUGH: Senator, I don't want to opine on a case - a particular case without looking at it and studying the discrimination.

HARRIS: Are you aware that that case has not been overturned?

TOTENBERG: Harris never got an answer. And when she asked Kavanaugh if it's unconstitutional to ban entry into the U.S. based on race, he again demurred. After today's hearing, there are still quite a few steps before Kavanaugh is confirmed. But he looks to be headed, metaphorically speaking, for the bottom of the ninth inning with no major obstacle in sight.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.