Much has been made of Brett Kavanaugh’s time on the bench as a judge, but less covered is his history as a GOP political operative, particularly in the George W. Bush White House. After working for Ken Starr on the inquiry that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, Kavanaugh was hired as an associate in the White House Counsel’s office in 2001. Following a stint working on judicial nominations, among other things, he became staff secretary and assistant to President Bush – a highly influential position in any administration.
Here’s why that matters: While we know a lot about Judge Kavanaugh’s record on the bench (including his clear hostility to the established idea of the wall of separation between church and state), we know very little about his views and experiences working as a political appointee in the Bush administration. This is particularly true around the controversial Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Charitable Choice and other critical church-state separation issues.
If you’re wondering what’s happened in this kind of situation previously, President Barrack Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court is illustrative. Now-Justice Kagan had worked in the Bill Clinton White House and upon her nomination, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then-Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) jointly sent a letter requesting records from her tenure in the White House Counsel’s Office and the Domestic Policy Council.
Critically, more than 170,000 pages of materials were produced, including virtually every email sent and received by Kagan while she was at the White House. Even more important is that President Obama did not assert executive privilege over a single document, that the few records that President Clinton objected to public release were allowed to be shared with the committee confidentially and that less than one percent of the pages of records were withheld because of personal privacy.
We know there’s a lot out there about Kavanaugh, too. Fix the Court, a nonpartisan watchdog group, filed Freedom of Information Act requests last year, seeking Kavanaugh’s records from the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The library identified approximately 429,870 pages and 667,824 electronic files of potentially responsive records.
It would seem that current Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) would agree with our approach. Here’s him talking about Justice Kagan’s records in 2010:
Americans United has signed on to a letter with more than 100 of our coalition partners demanding that the Senate require disclosure of Kavanaugh’s records similar to that required of Justice Kagan. For a seat of such importance, it’s critical that Senators – and all Americans – get to know the full truth about Judge Kavanaugh.
(Top photo: Then-Pres. George W. Bush, left, watches as his former White House attorney Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2006. Credit: White House photo by Eric Draper.)