Democrats are convinced that smoking guns and legal landmines are buried in millions of pages of documents from Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s past.
But 500,000 pages into their search, they have yet to identify them.
As Judge Kavanaugh prepares for his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, his judicial record captured in more than 300 opinions on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is getting little attention.
Instead, the battle has been over access to more than 3 million pages of documents from his time in the Bush White House.
“The other side has apparently found very little in his record that’s objectionable,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and Judiciary Committee chairman, said on the Senate floor this month. “The only thing I keep hearing about is their unprecedented demand for millions and millions of pages of irrelevant documents — on top of the hundreds of thousands of pages we’ve already received.”
What does emerge from the documents made public so far are snapshots of a meticulous legal mind with a touch of temper and outrage and a fierce work ethic.
Emails reveal Judge Kavanaugh was often told to knock off his late-night work and head home. He also appears to have neglected his voicemail box, judging by the number of email messages from folks complaining that they had to resort to writing.
Those are far from the blockbuster revelations Democrats hoped to find to help their quest to derail the Supreme Court nomination.
Still, they say Judge Kavanaugh will have to answer for some things they see.
Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, said she is looking for “patterns, and there are patterns.”
“I’ve spotted some documents that I think are worth pursuing,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, though he didn’t describe what he found.
Sen. Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat, said the documents most intriguing to him are secret. The Bush presidential library turned over the documents to the Judiciary Committee under seal, and they are generally restricted to senators’ eyes.
“They will eventually be released publicly, so I caution colleagues who are weighing their votes on Kavanaugh without having access to or having read these documents,” said Mr. Coons, adding that “a number of his comments, whether email or written record, raise some real concerns.”
Democrats were so worried about those secret documents that Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer fired off a letter this month insisting that every senator have the right to review them.
No problem, replied Mr. Grassley, who said a desk has been set up for any senator to do just that.
His office said one Democratic senator made an appointment to review the papers but didn’t show.
Roughly 140,000 pages of documents have been released to the committee but have not been made public.
Judge Kavanaugh, who worked for the independent counsel’s office investigating the Clintons in the 1990s, then worked in the Bush White House at a time when email was becoming common, has perhaps the most extensive paper trail background of any Supreme Court nominee in history.
All told, his government files likely run to 4 million pages.
Senate Republicans, who control the process, have asked the National Archives to process and release the documents from Judge Kavanaugh’s time in the independent counsel’s office and then in the White House counsel’s office from 2001 to 2003. Those total about 1 million pages.
Democrats, though, say they want to see documents from Judge Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary from 2003 to 2006, when he was involved in major decisions such as the war on terrorism and thorny legal cases. Those, the archives says, total about 3 million pages.
Republicans say most of those documents are ones Judge Kavanaugh shuffled — the staff secretary acts as gatekeeper for what reaches the president — and don’t reflect the nominee’s own thoughts. They say waiting for those documents to be released could delay confirmation for months.
They also say the 500,000 pages already released are at least twice the record for any previous confirmation — and hundreds of thousands more pages are still to come even under the smaller Republican request.
Besides, they say, there is not much to find anyway.
One entire set of documents released contained revisions of invitations to a Heritage Foundation event.
Other documents involve Judge Kavanaugh’s editing of colleagues’ legal briefs, where he proved to be a stickler for precise language.
While in the counsel’s office, he worked mostly on processing the president’s judicial nominees and U.S. attorneys, and fielded ethics inquiries for employees trying to balance politics and government work in their White House roles.
Then there are the tidbits about hot-button issues, including one exchange about Elizabeth Smart, the Utah girl whose 2002 disappearance flummoxed the nation. Judge Kavanaugh and his colleagues suggested that the 14-year-old might have run away. It later turned out that she had been kidnapped and repeatedly raped before she was rescued by police nine months later.
On legal matters, he seemed to label Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for whom he clerked, the “most pro-First Amendment Justice” after a 2002 opinion in which the high court found a 1990s-era law prohibiting computer-generated pornography to be unconstitutionally vague.
Judge Kavanaugh also had praise for Justice Byron White. He called him a “legend” for his work as deputy attorney general under President Kennedy.
Republicans say the best place to see Judge Kavanaugh’s legal mind at work isn’t in office emails but in the opinions he has written since he joined the circuit court in 2006.
“Few people are actually reading the opinions, which in my view are the best indication about how he would be as a justice,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican.