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Kavanaugh Hearings


We're going to start the program today by reviewing those dramatic hearings into the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.


CHUCK GRASSLEY: You're out of order. I'll proceed.


RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Chairman, if we cannot be recognized, I move to adjourn.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Shouting, unintelligible)

GRASSLEY: You are taking advantage of my decency and integrity.


CORY BOOKER: This is about the closest I'll probably ever have in my life to an I am Spartacus moment.


TED CRUZ: Sorry that your daughters had to endure the political circus of this morning. That is, alas, the world that is Washington in 2018.

MARTIN: As you heard, there were protesters, there were tense moments among members of the Judiciary Committee, and there was some compelling testimony from witnesses, who talked of issues like executive power and guns. But we were wondering what, if anything, we actually learned about Judge Kavanaugh from those hearings, so we've invited back David A. Kaplan. Last week, we spoke to him about his new book, "The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside The Supreme Court's Assault On The Constitution." He's with us now once again.

David A. Kaplan, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

DAVID A. KAPLAN: Glad to be back.

MARTIN: So talk to me about what struck you about the hearings. I mean, the last person you heard on that tape earlier was Senator Ted Cruz calling it a circus. Did you think it was a circus? I mean, what stood out to you?

KAPLAN: I've been to a lot of circuses, and this wasn't as good as some of them. But several things struck me. One, I thought it was a bit rich to hear Republicans complaining about the process after what they did to Merrick Garland two years ago. He didn't even get a hearing. So you can blame both sides for their behavior.

Second, I thought Kavanaugh wasn't quite as good as I expected him to be. He was a perfectly solid witness. He wasn't as good as John Roberts, now the chief justice, was more than a decade ago. But I thought he would be better than Neil Gorsuch, and he came across sometimes not merely as reticent but as evasive. And I guess I was a little surprised by the stage performance. Will it matter? No.

MARTIN: Why not?

KAPLAN: Because I think Republicans and conservatives have been waiting for this moment for a generation. I think, short of him being found to be a secret member of the Democratic Party, they're going to confirm him.

MARTIN: It's interesting that The New York Times wrote a fairly tough editorial about him, saying that, in a more virtuous world, Judge Brett Kavanaugh would be deeply embarrassed by the manner in which he has arrived at the doorstep of a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. And they weren't just talking about the process of the Republican Party. They're talking about his performance. They were saying he was evasive. They said that - you know, he bordered on dishonest, which is a fairly tough thing to say about somebody who's going to sit, you know, on the court presumably for the rest of his life. One of the senators - Democratic senators, to be sure - has basically suggested the same thing. Do you think that that's true?

KAPLAN: Maybe it's the lawyer in me - I probably would call it more disingenuous than dishonest. But some of the answers didn't quite pass the laugh test. I mean, these hearings for seats on the court have devolved into such a charade that each round of them - it's hard to top the prior one. Having said that, I understand the tone of the Times editorial because of Kavanaugh's performance. But I think part of the tone owes to the fact that this is viewed - correctly so - as a pivotal seat, and it's about to go to the conservatives.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, is there something overall about this process, in your view, that is broken - that could be fixed? I mean, the Times - again - editorial called Judge Kavanaugh's testimony disingenuous and meaningless. That's a phrase that many people have applied to the hearings themselves in the current moment. So - but, on the other hand, people say that, look - if you just assume that this is a political process, the people on the right like their nominees. The people on the left have liked their nominees. So if you don't like the politics of it, then you need to vote differently. But there it is. What's your take on this?

KAPLAN: I don't think that hearings for Republican nominees are that much worse than hearings for Democratic nominees. It's a question of realpolitik - which side has the power? Maybe you'd get a slightly different result with different presidents and different senators, but we haven't seen that for close to a generation now. It's gotten worse. The stakes for court seats become higher. And, as I argue in the book, the fault with that lies at the Supreme Court. With the stakes that high, you expect presidents - not just this one - to engage in a more cynical vetting process, and you expect senators on both sides to do what they can to try to derail a nominee they don't like.

MARTIN: That's David A. Kaplan, former legal affairs editor at Newsweek. If you'd like to hear our conversation last week about his new book, "The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside The Supreme Court's Assault On The Constitution," you can go to npr.org.

David A. Kaplan, thank you so much for talking with us.

KAPLAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.