Will Murkowski block Kavanaugh nomination? Here’s how she says she’ll decide

A pro-Roe v. Wade protest broke out in front of the Supreme Court just after the president announced his nominee. Photo: Liz Ruskin.

On Monday night, just after President Trump announced his nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, an abortion-rights crowd gathered outside the court to protest.

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“We object!” they shouted.

Liberals across the country have pinned their hopes on Sens. Susan Collins of Maine or Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski to derail the confirmation.

Collins and Murkowski typically vote for abortion rights and are among the Republicans who most frequently vote against their party. But Murkowski is keeping her cards close to her vest on Kavanaugh.

Murkowski said she’s disappointed at all the interest groups and partisans who prejudged the nominee.

“I’m a little annoyed that some of my colleagues, even before the president had laid down Judge Kavanaugh’s name, had already determined they were going to vote against whomever,” Murkowski told Alaska reporters in her office Tuesday morning.

Murkowski isn’t making any such early pronouncements, pro or con.

“I’ve been asked already this morning by several different reporters, ‘What do you think? What do you think?'” Murkowski said. “I am certainly going to defer on that until I’ve had an opportunity to review.”

Murkowski said she’s going to base her decision on Kavanaugh’s record, the rating the American Bar Association gives him and the views of Alaskans.

“I hope that Alaskans will weigh in,” Murkowski said, “but I also hope that they will give it thoughtful consideration, too, and not just a knee-jerk, ‘You should support him because he’s Trump’s pick,’ or ‘You should not support him because he’s Trump’s pick.'”

Murkowski said she’ll also rely on what she learns in a face-to-face interview with Kavanaugh, which may be weeks away.

For many Americans, this vote is all about the future of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion across the country. But it’s generally accepted in Washington that you can’t ask a judicial nominee how he’ll vote on a challenge to Roe, because a judge is supposed to consider the facts of each case, not pre-judge a case based on hypotheticals.

Murkowski said she abides by the rule.

“If he’s a good judge he’ll say, ‘I cannot pre-determine an outcome. That’s not my job,'” Murkowski said.

Murkowski called her evaluation standards “rigorous and exacting.”

Murkowski was far more effusive when Trump announced his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the high court. In a statement right after Gorsuch was announced, Murkowski said she was pleased with the selection and commended Trump on a strong nominee.

Murkowski said she was able to say more then because she had more advance notice on Gorsuch.

“The indicators were there very early that Gorsuch was going to be the nominee, and so I think there was just a little more opportunity to just kind of process,” Murkowski said.

Here’s another difference: Gorsuch replaced Justice Antonin Scalia, who anchored the conservative wing of the court, but Kavanaugh would replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the bench. Murkowski said she valued Kennedy’s moderating voice and said she’d be “fine” with a nominee in that mold.

“And so the question is whether Kavanaugh replaces him as that justice who is perhaps more in the middle,” Murkowski said. “I don’t know that he is. But that is something that I’m going to be looking at.”

Actually, Kavanaugh is considered by most court watchers to be much further to the right than Kennedy. Among the other things Murkowski said she wants to know about Kavanaugh is whether he looks to precedent for clarity and what he considers settled law.

Sen. Dan Sullivan said Judge Kavanaugh is known for applying the Constitution “as written,” upholding the right to bear arms and having a “healthy skepticism” of the powers of executive branch agencies — all plusses, in Sullivan’s book. And Sullivan said he knows Kavanaugh, from when they both worked in the Bush Administration. Sullivan didn’t exactly say how he’d vote, but he very rarely votes against the Republican leadership and he’s given no indication he would vote no on Kavanaugh.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

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