The rules of oral argument at the Supreme Court are strict: when a justice speaks, the advocate has to shut up. But a law student noticed that the rules were getting broken again and again —by men. He and his professor set out to chart an epidemic of interruptions. If women can’t catch a break in the boardroom or the legislature (or at the MTV VMA’s), what’s it going to take to let them speak from the bench of the highest court in the land?
Judge Kavanaugh must have studied earlier confirmation hearings carefully, as he had absorbed all of their key lessons: Say nothing, say it at great length, and then say it again.
.. His confirmation would represent the culmination of a decades-long project of the conservative legal movement
.. Democratic senators sought assurances, for instance, that Judge Kavanaugh was not “a human torpedo being launched at the Mueller investigation,” as Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, put it.
They wanted a promise that Judge Kavanaugh would be independent of Mr. Trump, asking him, for instance, to promise to recuse himself from cases arising from Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the president.
Judge Kavanaugh refused. Making such a commitment, he said, would jeopardize his judicial independence.
.. Judge Kavanaugh’s general strategy was summarized in a 1981 memorandum prepared by a young White House lawyer who had been assigned the job of preparing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for her confirmation hearings... The memo’s author was John Roberts, and he took his own advice at his 2005 confirmation hearings to become chief justice of the United States... he demonstrated a seemingly complete command of Supreme Court precedent.
He was knowledgeable but not glib, effortlessly summoning the names and summarizing the details of old decisions without indicating how they would apply to new controversies.
.. Judge Kavanaugh was less sure-footed when the questions turned from the law to his own actions.
.. “The point of having public hearings is so relevant issues can be vetted, not just for the senators but for all of us. I fear that this hearing may represent a move away from that, and back to the days of confirmations as back room deals.”
.. He used a rare colorful phrase in refusing to answer questions about Mr. Trump’s attacks on the judiciary. “I’m not going to get within three ZIP codes of a political controversy here,” he said.
“The Democrats made a fairly strong case that Judge Kavanaugh is very partisan and loyal to the president,” he said. “The nominee’s refusal to criticize the president in his attacks against the judicial branch didn’t help his case.”
.. “Justice Ginsburg’s favored technique took the form of a pincer movement,” Justice Kagan wrote.
- If a question was too specific, she would decline to answer on the ground that she did not want to forecast a vote.
- If it was too general, she would say a judge should not deal in abstractions or hypothetical questions.
Professor Kagan explained what had counted as too specific: “Roughly, anything that might have some bearing on a case that might someday come before the court.” She also described what had been too general: “Roughly, anything else worthy of mention.”
.. his calculated praise for United States v. Nixon, the 1974 decision in which the Supreme Court unanimously ordered President Richard M. Nixon to comply with a trial subpoena to turn over Oval Office recordings. The decision would, of course, be the leading precedent if a dispute arising from the Mueller investigation reached the Supreme Court.
.. But Judge Kavanaugh ranked it among the Supreme Court’s greatest hits.
Those included, he said, just three others:
- Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision that ruled segregated public schools unconstitutional;
- Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer, the 1952 decision rejecting President Harry S. Truman’s attempt to seize the nation’s steel mills to aid the war effort in Korea; and
- Marbury v. Madison, the 1803 decision that established the basis for the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review.
.. But where Judge Kavanaugh responded to questions about Roe with equivocation, he embraced the Nixon case.
“It was one of the greatest moments because of the political pressures of the time,” he said. “The courts stood up for judicial independence in a moment of national crisis.”
Still, he drew the line at saying whether, say, a grand jury subpoena calling for Mr. Trump’s testimony should be enforced. That would, he said, require him to answer a hypothetical question.
Separately, in a March 2003 email from Judge Kavanaugh reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Judge Kavanaugh took issue with the notion that the Roe v. Wade case, which established the right to an abortion, is “settled law.”
“I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since [the] Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so,” Judge Kavanaugh wrote. That email was first reported by The New York Times.
Democrats argue that there is no reason for such material to be designated confidential. Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) said he was willing to work with Democrats on specific documents they wanted released, and other GOP senators said unilaterally releasing documents wasn’t an acceptable solution.
.. The documents that Democrats planned to release didn’t appear to involve any classified national security information. Rather, they were internal administration documents from the Bush years, given to Congress in exchange for keeping them confidential.
.. Republicans note that restricting access to some sensitive documents to senators-only has happened in previous nomination fights, including during the successful nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama.
.. During the Kagan nomination, then-chairman Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) agreed to accept documents from the Clinton administration as long as they were kept confidential and limited to senators and their staff.
.. The law governing information from former White House occupants gives former presidents some control over their documents. In many cases, presidents or their lawyers can control the release of information for a certain period of time after they leave office.
Mr. Booker’s actions drew protests from Republicans on the panel, who accused Mr. Booker of grandstanding for a future presidential campaign.
Contrary to what supporters say, he’s no originalist.
But Judge Kavanaugh hasn’t earned his originalist badge. It’s being fixed to him to mask the fact that as an appeals court judge, he relentlessly pressed forward a Republican agenda favoring business and religious interests.
.. Judge Kavanaugh leaned a bit toward an originalist approach in two opinions, one in 2008, the other in 2011. But when he was asked in 2016 whether he considered himself an originalist, he didn’t answer, and in a 2017 lecture, he expressed caution. “History and tradition, liberty, and judicial restraint and deference to the legislature,” he explained, “compete for primacy of place in different areas of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence.”
To a pure originalist, this is an incoherent mixing of methodologies. Any ruling that departs from the original meaning should be thrown out. Judge Kavanaugh has called for no such thing.
.. Instead, he has proudly said that he’s a textualist, which means that he gives primacy to the ordinary meanings of the words of a statute, or the Constitution itself. Textualists steer away from other sources of meaning, like legislative history. Conservatives have often touted textualism for its neutral deference to the legislature. Three of the court’s conservative members — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Neal Gorsuch — lay claim to textualism as a guiding principle.
But textualism doesn’t serve as an overarching theory for conservative jurisprudence. Textualist interpretation can produce liberal as well as conservative interpretations of statutes. And because ambiguous phrasing in laws leaves judges with choices to make, it doesn’t put much of a restraint on judges. As Judge Kavanaugh has said, quoting the liberal-moderate Justice Elena Kagan, “We are all textualists now.” This means that textualism offers neither a clear dividing line from liberals nor the historical gravitas of originalism.
.. This is clear from the conservatives’ expansive interpretation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, an approach that has no historical support from the time the First Amendment was written. Despite this, in a series of decisions, from Citizens United in 2010, which opened a faucet of campaign donations and spending, to Janus v. AFSCME in June, which diminished the clout of unions by stopping them from collecting dues from all the workers they represent, conservatives have used the First Amendment to strike down laws that regulate corporations, help unions and limit the influence of money on politics.
.. Tellingly, the court has accepted far more cases involving challenges to regulations of conservative speech than previous courts, with a win rate of 69 percent, compared with 21 percent for cases involving liberal speech. Judge Kavanaugh, too, has embraced this business-friendly interpretation of the First Amendment.
.. With five reliable members, the court’s conservative wing will be in a position to accomplish much, and for the most part it will be easier to achieve its goals without originalism.
.. Expect a reappearance, however, when it comes time to reconsider the constitutional right to abortion access established in Roe v. Wade. With that important exception, originalism has largely served its purpose and can be cast away
.. Judge Kavanaugh’s supporters call him an originalist rather than the pro-business Republican he is because of the theory’s claim that it separates law from politics. As the gap between originalism and the greater goals of conservative jurisprudence widens, however, the claim that the Supreme Court stands above the political fray, already damaged, will become harder to sustain.
Many other forms of judicial behavior also changed in the mid-1990s. Starting in 1995, the time that justices spent speaking during oral argument skyrocketed, leaving the advocates with far less of the 60-minute argument to make their cases.
.. The justices as a group have taken an additional 13 minutes of argument after 1995 than before, an increase of 22 percent.
.. What caused these trends?
.. Rather, behavior at the Supreme Court changed in response to a radical increase in political polarization.
.. The 1994 Republican Revolution, led by Rep. Newt Gingrich (Ga.), coincided with a rapid rise in polarization. Ideological distance between the two parties grew, and the number of moderates in Congress plummeted. Norms of bipartisan lawmaking began to erode, and eventually the Republican majority impeached a popular Democratic president.
.. During this period, the justices’ questions to litigants barely increased, but nonquestions — occasions when the justices made statements, rebutted their colleagues and presented arguments — rose precipitously. Since 1995, the justices have made comments almost three times as often as they have asked questions
.. Together, the justices have made more than 100 additional comments per case since 1995. Rather than inviting advocates to explain their positions, the justices are often making the cases themselves.
.. The link with polarization is clear: The justices now disproportionately disrupt the side that they ultimately rule against.
.. The justices generally direct their true questions to the side they support and their comments to the side they oppose. The difference, again, increased massively since 1995.
.. Justices also began more frequently to supply answers through leading questions and to step in with deflection and rebuttal. At oral argument in Dean v. United States last year, after Justice Sonia Sotomayor repeatedly came to the aid of a struggling advocate, he mistook Sotomayor for Justice Elena Kagan. “She’s Justice Sotomayor,” Kagan told him. “She was the one helping you.” It was an unusually frank recognition of what oral arguments have become: a chance for the justices to support their side over the other one.