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Kavanaugh denies role in detainee policies

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., meets with Brett Kavanaugh, right, nominee for the D.C. Circuit Court on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 2, 2006, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON --Appeals court nominee Brett Kavanaugh told senators Tuesday he played no role as a White House aide in President Bush's policies on detainees, and he promised to use precedent, not personal views or loyalties, in issuing judgments from the bench.

"I pledge to each member of the Senate that if confirmed I will interpret the law as written and not impose personal policy choices," Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He noted that cases involving high government officials, including the president, often come before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the circuit where he would serve if confirmed.

"I will call them as I see them regardless of who the litigants may be ... regardless of whether the president was involved," he said.

For all the independence he pledged, Kavanaugh voiced the same opposition to judicial activism as Bush when discussing Supreme Court decisions.

Some of the court's worst times have been "moments of judicial activism," Kavanaugh said. He cited, among others, the 1857 Dred Scott decision, when the Supreme Court ruled that black men could be "treated as an ordinary article of merchandise."

Kavanaugh appeared at a rare second confirmation hearing after Democrats criticized him as being unseasoned and a partisan. They questioned his role as White House staff secretary in White House policies that have arisen since his first hearing in 2004.

Kavanaugh's resume and a downgraded rating by the American Bar Association provided targets for his opponents. He was an assistant to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the impeachment probe of President Clinton and he worked on behalf of the Bush campaign during the election recount in 2000.

"Your experience has been most notable not so much for your blue chip credentials but for the undeniable political nature of your assignments," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "It feeds an impression of partisanship that is, to put it mildly, not ideal for a nominee to a critically important lifetime post."

Republicans said Kavanaugh's Ivy League education and prestigious clerkships make him a good candidate for the D.C. Circuit Court. Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said it should be no surprise that Bush's nominees share Bush's positions.

"If he reflects the views consistent with the president, that's entirely consistent with the president's nomination of judges," Specter said. "That's our system; that's decided by an election."

He asked whether Kavanaugh had been involved in several controversial White House policies, including treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and any torture techniques used on detainees overseas. He also was asked whether he knew convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He replied 'no' to each.

Asked whether he knew or was involved in revealing the identity of former CIA agent Valerie Plame, Kavanaugh replied, "I do not know anything about the facts and circumstances of that matter."

However, Kavanaugh acknowledged giving final approval to signing statements that the White House issues when Bush signs legislation into law. Such statements have been controversial because they describe the way the president will execute the law. Some members of Congress say the statements appear at times to conflict with Congress' intent. Specter plans to hold hearings later this year on signing statements.

Kavanaugh, 41, appeared for a first confirmation hearing in 2004. His nomination stalled when Democrats threatened to filibuster Bush's judicial nominees and Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., responded by threatening to abolish judicial filibusters. A bipartisan group of 14 senators broke the impasse a year ago, pledging not to support filibusters of judicial nominees except under "extraordinary circumstances."

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito were confirmed for the Supreme Court during the period that followed.

Frist said he intended to give Kavanaugh a confirmation vote before Memorial Day, and move on to the nomination of federal judge Terrence Boyle to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Unlike Kavanaugh's nomination, Democrats say they definitely would filibuster Boyle's over allegations that he ruled on cases in which he had financial interests. During Kavanaugh's hearing Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called on the White House to withdraw Boyle's name.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in response to a possible filibuster of Boyle's nomination, "The president strongly continues to support his nominee, and we look forward to a vote on the Senate floor by the end of the month."

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