Senate hearings began Tuesday on the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. And while Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey was well out of the spotlight, he echoed many of the concerns that his fellow Democrats were expressing on Capitol Hill.
“It’s gonna be a critical week,” Casey said of the hearings during a Tuesday interview with 90.5 WESA. “The big issue out of the box is not even a review of his views – that will come obviously as part of the hearing. But the big issue now is the access to information and documents.”
Democrats have complained about a lack of access to records stemming from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House, where he served as a staff secretary. That paperwork includes thousands and perhaps even millions of documents.
Republicans have said much of the material is purely administrative and has nothing to do with Kavanaugh’s views. But Casey and Democrats are wary.
“This individual coming onto the court is a human being, with a point of view, with predispositions like we all have," Casey said. "And their life experience, and the things they have said and done – it’s all relevant, I think. What if there are memos that clearly state his political opinion about the major issues of the day that might still be relevant today? Especially if he strongly expressed a view, then, that he is contradicting now."
Republicans, by contrast, have hailed Kavanaugh as an able jurist. Casey's Republican counterpart, Pat Toomey, called him "highly qualified" after meeting him.
Casey has not had a meeting of his own, which isn't surprising: He said he would oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination before it even took place. That’s because as with Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s prior Supreme Court pick, Kavanaugh’s name appeared on a list of potential nominees approved by two conservative groups: the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.
Casey noted that when 20 Republican attorneys general announced a lawsuit seeking to overturn laws requiring insurance to cover pre-existing medical conditions, they did so from Heritage’s Washington D.C. headquarters.
"Heritage is knee-deep in this effort to remove protections from pre-existing conditions, right? Judge Kavanaugh could not be in front of the Judiciary Committee today if he wasn't signed off on by just Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society."
Many Democrats are also concerned about what Kavanaugh’s nomination could mean on the question of reproductive freedoms. Kavanaugh, who would replace swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, could well be a deciding vote in overturning Roe v. Wade, the court precedent that established a constitutional right to an abortion. But for Casey, the issue prompts a more ambivalent response.
Casey opposes abortion rights, and voted in favor of a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks. But he has also championed federal funding for non-abortion services at Planned Parenthood and other providers. His Republican rival in the upcoming election, Lou Barletta, has noted that Casey has in recent years earned 100 percent ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Asked how he would react to a ruling that overturned Roe, Casey said much would depend on how sweeping the decision was.
“You have to see the case. I’ve been clear for years, I didn’t agree with Roe. And I think it went too far. The scope of that case was far too sweeping. And the next case that comes along and deals squarely with the issue of abortion may be as far-reaching as that or it may be more limited.”
In any case, he said, “On the issue of abortion, I think in some ways it’s in the interest of those on both sides of the debate sometimes to continue the fight instead of saying ‘what can we do as legislators, even as citizens, to reduce the number of abortions, to not have that decision be presented in the first place?’ … One of the best ways to reduce abortions, which both sides claim to want to do, is to make sure that folks have access to family planning, and not have the access that women have now be reduced.”