Updated at 12:46 p.m. ET
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh began a marathon day of confirmation hearings by presenting himself as an open-minded judge who is guided by the law, but not indifferent to the effects outside the courtroom.
“I don’t live in a bubble,” Kavanaugh told members of the Senate Judiciary committee. “I base my decisions on the law, but I do so with an awareness of the facts and an awareness of the real-world consequences.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pressed Kavanaugh on that, as she probed the judge’s views on hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control.
Kavanaugh said he understands the importance that people attach to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion — a ruling that was reaffirmed two decades later in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
“It’s an important precedent of the Supreme Court,” Kavanaugh said. But he stopped short of saying whether he believes Roe or Casey was correctly decided.
Kavanaugh defended his dissenting opinion in a case involving a ban on semi-automatic rifles. He argued the ban should have been found unconstitutional, citing a decision by the late Justice Antonin Scalia that only “unusual” weapons can be outlawed.
“Semi-automatic rifles are widely possessed in the United States. There are millions and millions and millions,” Kavanaugh said. “As a judge, my job was to follow the Second Amendment decision of the Supreme Court, whether I agreed with it or disagreed with it.”
Kavanaugh stressed that as a native of the Washington, D.C., area, he is well-aware of the danger posed by gun violence.
“Of course, the violence in schools is something that we all detest and want to do something about,” Kavanaugh said.
For the second day in a row, the hearing was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. But questioning quickly resumed as demonstrators were hustled out of the hearing room by U.S. Capitol Police.
Barring a surprise, Senate Republicans have the votes to confirm Kavanaugh in time for him to take his place on the high court when it begins its fall term next month. Both supporters and opponents believe he would tilt the Supreme Court to the right, cementing a 5-4 conservative majority for years to come.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s chairman, highlighted Kavanaugh’s experience as an appeals court judge, then asked whether he would have any trouble ruling against the president who appointed him.
“No one is above the law in our constitutional system,” Kavanaugh replied. “Under our system of government, the executive branch is subject to the law.”
Kavanaugh pointed approvingly to several examples of Supreme Court justices who ruled against the presidents who appointed them. He also highlighted his own decision as an appeals court, rejecting a military tribunal for terrorism suspect Salim Hamdan, even though it was a “signature prosecution” of the George W. Bush administration in which he served.
“You’ll never have a nominee who’s ruled for a more unpopular defendant,” Kavanaugh said. “You don’t make decisions based on who people are or their policy preferences. You base decisions on the law.”
Kavanaugh is also facing questions about his thoughts on presidential power and immunity. Although he worked on the Starr report, he later wrote that a sitting president should not have to face the distraction of civil or criminal investigations.
“What changed was Sept. 11,” Kavanaugh said, explaining the evolution of his views. He stressed that his writing on presidential immunity was meant as a recommendation for lawmakers, not a preview of how he might rule as a judge.
“They were ideas for Congress to consider,” Kavanaugh said. “They were not my constitutional views.”
Kavanaugh also described his experience tutoring boys from low-income families and working at a soup kitchen as helping to ground his work on the bench.
“You’re a better judge if you’re aware,” he said. “Judging is important, but I wanted to be more directly involved in the community.”
“We’ve all been in courtrooms where the judge is acting a little too full of being a judge,” Kavanaugh added. “I try not to do that.”
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