Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings on Thursday saw a number of Senators ask about his take on the nation’s gun laws.
Kavanaugh, who sits on the federal appeals court for the DC Circuit, has been tapped by President Trump to replace recently retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. On his third day before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, he responded to a host of questions from the bipartisan group.
Echoing concerns about the constitutionality of a ban on assault weapons asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday, other committee Dems pressed the nominee Thursday on his stance that semi-auto rifles were in common use, thus making them protected by the Second Amendment.
“Wouldn’t the common sense rule that you stressed in your opening statement — at a time when so many innocent people are being killed with guns — suggest that we ought to be mindful that the Second Amendment is not a suicide pact,” asked Dick Durbin, of Illinois. “We ought to make America safe and to find a construction of this which sets you apart from those who are looking to public safety as the standard is a troubling thing. I’ sure that some groups — I’m not going to name names, you know what I’m talking about — applaud your position but I would just say from the viewpoint of parents and families and people worried about gun safety, why do you set yourself aside from the mainstream of thinking on this?”
The jurist, in response, reinforced his stand that the precedent he used in his 2011 dissent in the Heller II case — the original 2008 Heller and 2010 McDonald opinions handed down by the nation’s high court — was sound and he was “very aware” of the real world consequences. “At the same time, I’m a judge,” said Kavanaugh. “My duty, as I’ve explained repeatedly, is to follow the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court.”
Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who said he considered bringing crime scene photos of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting to the hearing, revisited the argument later in Day 3.
“I am asking you to look at the real world with real impact and I am asking you to reconsider your dissent in Heller II and look at the impact on children,” said the lawmaker. “Young children who have their whole lives ahead of them as did those 20 sixth-graders in Sandy Hook,” going on to say, “a ban on assault weapons may well have saved them.”
Blumenthal, in his question, failed to recognize that Connecticut had adopted a statewide assault weapon ban in 1993 — two decades before the Newtown shooting — but did go on to characterize the guns affected by such a prohibition as “the most effective weapons known to man.”
Kavanaugh reiterated that the established legal precedent he followed in the dissent allowed for the possibility of gun restrictions on some firearms characterized by the court as “dangerous and unusual,” for instance machine guns.
Later in the evening, Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, pointing to a life-sized ad by the NRA as part of the gun rights group’s campaign in favor of the nominee’s confirmation behind her, asked Kavanaugh why the organization would want to see him on the bench. “They highlight that there are four justices in favor of gun control and four justices that oppose gun control,” she said, noting that the Second Amendment organization has stressed Kavanaugh’s potential role as a tie-breaker.
“There are a lot of ads by groups against and for,” attested Kavanaugh, “I’m an independent judge.”
Hirono later tweeted out a copy of the ad she referenced in the hearing with the hashtag #StopKavanaugh
Both Blumenthal and Hirono questioned Kavanaugh if 3D printed guns could be banned without stepping on the right to keep and bear arms, which the judge, citing ongoing litigation, declined to address as it could become a potential case for the high court. Sen. Pat Leahy, D-VT, asked a similar question on Wednesday with the same result.
So far, more than 200 protesters have been arrested during the confirmation hearings while the jurist has seen support in the form of Kavanaugh’s Catholic Youth basketball team drop in late Thursday.
With the Judiciary Committee likely to approve the nominee, Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the chamber for a floor vote as Sen. Jon Kyl was sworn in on Wednesday by Vice President Pence to replace the late John McCain of Arizona. Kyl previously served as the “sherpa” for Kavanaugh, arranging introductions to lawmakers after his nomination in July.