Senator Amy Klobuchar was in the room when Brett Kavanaugh testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, prior to his confirmation. She was one of the senators who asked him about his past and called for an FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations against him made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
Now, with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and Klobuchar running for president, Klobuchar has told Starting Line she’s looking more to the future of court nominations than the past.
“One thing I know and I’ve learned from that and all our other dealings with judicial issues is you have to hit the ground running,” she said. “The focus should be on electing a Democratic president who, on day one, is going to put in qualified people.”
In May, the New York Daily News reported that activists are requesting New York Rep. Jerry Nadler further investigate Kavanaugh.
Nadler could use his authority as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to ask the National Archives for records from Kavanaugh’s time as a staff secretary and White House lawyer in President George W. Bush’s administration.
Klobuchar last week said she didn’t know anything about the request, but explained that she’s confident Nadler will do the best thing for his committee.
She said she also appreciates the value in conducting investigations, but she thinks a new president’s attention would be better focused on filling vacancies with judges who respect the law and precedent.
“You just can’t wait,” Klobuchar said. “When President Obama came in, he had the [economic] downturn he was dealing with, and I think it took a while to get some of those names in, and I just don’t think we can wait.”
Klobuchar said she expects to see vacancies in all levels of the judicial system in 2021, and she would deal with them as soon as possible. Her commitment for nominating judges to fill vacancies appears on Klobuchar’s list of priorities for her first 100 days in office.
In February 2017, there were 117 vacancies in the federal courts and nominations started almost immediately, according to Ballotpedia, a nonprofit and nonpartisan online political encyclopedia. Reports have noted the record-fast pace.
Trump has nominated 191 people over the course of his term, 123 of which have been confirmed, according to the same Ballotpedia report. As of July 1, Ballotpedia has recorded 129 judicial vacancies.
This year, candidates have been more focused on judicial issues than they have been in years past.
Douglas Keith, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center in New York Law School, said it makes sense that candidates are talking about the issue and hearing questions about judicial nominations, because the public has also paid more attention to the judiciary.
“Courts are incredibly important to our democracy, but they’re important in that they impact issues that have long had people’s attention,” Keith said. “It’s not earth-shaking that this conversation is happening.”
Some of the increased awareness is due to high-profile Supreme Court nominating processes like that of Kavanaugh. Or controversies, like the Senate blocking President Barrack Obama from appointing Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy left by Antonin Scalia in February 2016.
The Garland controversy was the most publicized one, but many of Obama’s nominations for the federal court were held up by the Senate, often so the next president could have the appointments.
Keith said that helps explain why Trump has been able to fill so many judgeships.
The nominees appointed by Trump all have similarities, Keith said. They’re less diverse than previous administrations – even Republican ones – which makes the courts less representative. They’re also young, which means they can potentially serve, and influence the country, for decades.
Keith said that reality has probably spurred most of the frustration among progressives, and is the motivation behind most court advocacy now.
by Nikoel Hytrek
Photo by Julie Fleming