Kavanaugh's support for surveilling Americans raises concern

Court Watch

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has frequently supported giving the U.S. government wide latitude in the name of national security, including the secret collection of personal data from Americans.

It's a subject Democrats plan to grill Kavanaugh about during his confirmation hearings scheduled to begin next Tuesday. Beyond his writings as an appeals court judge, some senators suspect Kavanaugh was more involved in crafting counterterrorism policies during the George W. Bush administration than he has let on.

Kavanaugh stated in past congressional testimony that he wasn't involved in such provocative matters as warrantless surveillance and the treatment of enemy combatants in the years immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But legal experts say he could shift the court on national security issues, if he is confirmed to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor whose expertise includes national security and counterterrorism, cites opinions he says show Kavanaugh "is a lot less willing (than Kennedy) to look at international law as a relevant source of authority and constraint." He said on matters such as Guantanamo detention, Kavanaugh is "much more deferential to the executive branch in this context than Kennedy would have been."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, calls Kavanaugh "incredibly well-qualified." The former U.S. trade representative and White House budget director knows Kavanaugh from their time together in the Bush administration. He said Kavanaugh "believes strongly in the Constitution" and the Bill of Rights.

"I think he's in the mainstream with regard to these issues, and frankly, I don't think it's a difference with any meaning between where he is and where the court is currently," Portman said.

Democrats facing an uphill battle in blocking Kavanaugh's nomination have focused less on his judicial counterterrorism record than whether he misled senators about his role in Bush policies while testifying in 2006 confirmation hearings.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy are among Democrats who want to see more records from Kavanaugh's White House days, saying news media accounts after he was seated on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia raised new questions. White House spokesman Raj Shah said Durbin has been doing the misleading by taking Kavanaugh's answers out of context.

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