In early July, President Donald Trump named his nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court of the United States. Since then, Trump's nominee has certainly engendered controversy. Lately, Brett Kavanaugh's former Bush administration role has been raising eyebrows among Democrats, with many demanding to see records from that time period to better understand how Kavanaugh may view executive power, among other things.
As The Hill reported, Kavanaugh previously worked as a staff secretary in the George W. Bush administration from 2003 to 2006. The New York Times reported that staff secretaries often play important roles in the White House, typically discussing documents with senior White House officials before they are submitted to the president. As the paper noted, staff secretaries often write cover letters to accompany documents, particularly if White House staff disagree on the issue to which the document relates. Rajesh De, a former staff secretary in the Obama administration, highlighted the potentially impactful nature of the role when speaking with the paper:
The staff secretary role is potentially very influential, depending upon how he is utilized by the president ... This is the last person to review, comment on, or adjudicate differences with respect to material sent to the president, and may need to synthesize or explain differing points of view on issues of significance ...
Democrats are particularly interested in seeing records from Kavanaugh's time as staff secretary because they believe the documents could provide insight into how Kavanaugh approaches the law. As CBS News described, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Kavanaugh himself has previously described his staff secretary work as "the most interesting and, in many ways, among the most instructive" years of his life. Therefore, as Schumer asserted on Thursday (as reported by CBS), "why shouldn't the American people see what instructed him?"
Moreover, as the New York Times reported, Democrats are also interested in Kavanaugh's potential role in President Bush's controversial use of signing statements (written comments made when a president signs a bill into law) during his administration. Signing statements can become controversial when, as The American Presidency project described, presidents claim in them that " they believe some part of the legislation infringes on the constitutional powers of the presidency, and, therefore, they intend to ignore it or to implement it only in [certain] ways ..." Indeed, during his presidency, Bush used signing statements to claim he had the power to override some laws.
Schumer insisted that understanding the level of Kavanaugh's involvement with the drafting of Bush's signing statements is imperative for assessing how he would approach the role of Supreme Court justice. As the New York Times reported, Schumer asserted,
Judge Kavanaugh played a key role in clearing President Bush’s use of signing statements ... Understanding the nature of his involvement in those actions is absolutely critical to evaluating the type of justice he would be on the bench. The Senate and the American people deserve full access to the documents from his time as staff secretary.
However, according to The Hill, some Senate Republicans do not believe that Kavanaugh's former work as a staff secretary is relevant to his Supreme Court nomination and have accused Democrats of trying to delay the nomination process by seeking related records. As the paper noted, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said on the Senate floor,
The complaint about documents is not about assessing his record in an open-minded, fair and dispassionate way. It’s all about the desire to obstruct and delay ...
Overall, Senate Democrats and Republicans certainly seem to have divergent views regarding whether or not it is important to assess documents related to Kavanaugh's tenure as a White House staff secretary when evaluating his fitness for the Supreme Court. Time will quickly tell whether or not the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold Kavanaugh's nomination hearings, will obtain the records.