The Senate confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, begin today on Capitol Hill.
But what exactly does that mean, and what kind of time line can we expect before we see a thumbs-up or down from the Senate?
A little background
Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court on June 27, opening the door for President Donald Trump to pick a new Justice for the court for the second time this term.
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Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh, widely regarded as a conservative, to succeed justice Kennedy, who was considered a moderate “swing vote” on the court.
Justices hold their positions for life and can influence the ideological direction of the court for decades. The Senate must now hold committee hearings on Kavanaugh before he is officially confirmed or rejected by its members.
Republicans want to push through Kavanaugh’s nomination before the Supreme Court’s new session begins in October. Democrats demanded thousands of documents to review from Kavanaugh’s lengthy judicial career.
On Monday night, the committee received 42,000 pages of documents related to Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush administration. The flood of documents angered Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who called the last-minute release “absurd.”
The release did not delay the schedule for the hearings, however. Now both sides are digging in for the grueling sessions where senators will grill the nominee on his background and views on legal issues.
Here’s how this should work
The Senate Judiciary Committee kicks off four days of marathon hearings Tuesday, where Kavanaugh and committee members will start the process off with formal opening statements, NBC news reported.
Those in favor of the candidate are expected to praise him and his qualifications, while those opposed to him will likely raise their concerns about his views on key Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed women access to an abortion, and his opinions on topics like gun control, government authority, healthcare and more.
The next few days will be filled with grueling question-and-answer sessions lasting many hours where senators will grill Kavanaugh on his views, pepper him with hypothetical situations and pore over his past decisions and opinions.
With 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats on the committee, the Democrats will be the ones on the defensive.
“I think the handwriting is on the wall. I think he will be confirmed pretty handily” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, according to the LA Times.
One key issue some senators will pinpoint may be Kavanaugh’s changing views on the legality of a special counsel being able to fully investigate a sitting president. Kavanaugh supported the idea in the past but has since moderated his position, the Associated Press reported
“I’m going to be asking about his view of privacy rights, women’s health care and health care generally, whether the president is immune from the legal process if he is subpoenaed by a grand jury, whether the president is above the law,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, according to the LA Times.
What happens after the hearing is completed?
The committee votes on whether to send its recommendations, either a yes, no, or neither, to the full Senate for a vote. Then the entire Senate debates the nomination. The Senate can debate for as long as it wants, until a simple majority of 51 decide to end debate.
When debate is closed, Senators vote on the nominee, and another simple majority of 51 or more will either confirm or reject the nomination. Republicans control 51 of the 100 Senate seats. Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote in case of a tie.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation is not a sure thing.
Some Republican Senators, most notably Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are moderates who have bucked the party line in the past. Collins gave an interview to the New York Times in July where she said she needed to know that Kavanaugh considered Roe v. Wade settled law before she’d be comfortable supporting him.
At the same time, POLITICO has reported that both Senators consider Kavanaugh less troubling than other potential nominees.
If a nominee is rejected, or the Senate refuses to act at all, the president chooses another candidate and the process begins all over again.