The Senate Judiciary Committee begins confirmation hearings Tuesday on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Republicans, who control the Senate, hope to confirm Kavanaugh and cement a 5-4 conservative majority on the high court before its new term begins next month.
Kavanaugh has a lengthy paper trail from his 12 years as a federal appeals court judge, as well as from his work in the George W. Bush White House and for independent counsel Ken Starr. That history likely to provide ample fodder for Democrats to question Kavanaugh. But barring a surprise, he is likely to don the Supreme Court robe, perhaps by the start of the court's new term on Oct. 1, and take the place of retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom he once clerked.
At 53, Kavanaugh would be the second-youngest member of the court and the second appointed by President Trump.
"Throughout legal circles, he is considered a judge's judge," Trump said of Kavanaugh when he announced the nomination in July. "He is a brilliant jurist with a clear and effective writing style, universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time."
Kavanaugh will be formally introduced to the committee by two George W. Bush administration officials — former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former trade representative and budget director Rob Portman, now a senator from Ohio — as well as attorney Lisa Blatt, a former clerk to liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has written favorably about Kavanaugh.
"He is supremely qualified," Blatt wrote in an opinion piece for Politico, headlined "I'm a Liberal Feminist Lawyer. Here's Why Democrats Should Support Judge Kavanaugh."
Tuesday's session will be dominated by opening statements from committee members. Kavanaugh will also get the chance to speak. The real questioning begins on Wednesday.
Kavanaugh is likely to be grilled about his thinking on hot-button issues such as abortion, gun control and presidential power.
"We know that President Trump promised to appoint justices who would automatically overturn Roe v. Wade and be pro-gun," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "We have no reason to doubt that Kavanaugh fulfills that promise."
Although Kavanaugh helped to investigate then-President Bill Clinton while working for Starr in the 1990s, he later wrote in a 2009 law review article that presidents' official duties are too demanding for them to be subject to such a probe.
"I believe it is vital that the President be able to focus on his never-ending tasks with as few distractions as possible," Kavanaugh wrote. He suggested that Congress excuse the president from both civil lawsuits and criminal investigations while in office.
Feinstein takes issue with that approach.
"He does not believe a sitting president should be investigated or prosecuted," she told reporters on a conference call last week. "In other words, the president is above the law."
Democrats say Kavanaugh's views on presidential immunity deserve special scrutiny now, given the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by special counsel Robert Mueller, which has already implicated a number of Trump associates.
Despite their concerns, Democrats have few tools to block Kavanaugh's path to the high court. A rule change last year allows the Senate to confirm a Supreme Court nominee with a simple majority vote.