Congress debates a Supreme Court pick and federal spending

Judge Brett Kavanaugh (U.S. Court of Appeals photo)

Mark Trahant

Letter says Native people deserve a better justice than Brett Kavanaugh

This should be an interesting week in Washington. There are two things to keep an eye on. First, Senate hearings begin today on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. And, second, there are only a few legislative days left to get a federal budget (or at least a temporary one) through Congress. Kavanaugh is President Donald J. Trumps choice to replace former Justice Anthony Kennedy.

To kick off Kavanaughs hearing, a lawyer for former president George W. Bush turned released some 42,000 pages from Kavanaughs days at the White House. Not a single senator will be able to review these records before tomorrow, Senate Minority Leader, Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted Monday evening.

The Washington Post describes Kavanaugh as a Washington insider.  The vast majority of Kavanaughs professional life has been in government jobs rather than private practice. He served for four years as an assistant to independent counsel Kenneth Starr in the investigations of the Clinton administration and the suicide of Clinton aide Vince Foster.He served five years in the administration of President George W. Bush, first as an associate counsel and then as staff secretary. Bush nominated Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. After a bitter nomination fight that lasted for years, Kavanaugh was confirmed in 2006, the Post said. He has been part of more than 300 opinions on that court, with a consistently conservative record.

A couple of weeks ago more than 40 Native American women published concerns about this nomination. Judge Kavanaughs views on voting rights and racial justice in America are extremely troubling - in light of the fact that right now Native voters in North Dakota are fighting for their voting rights in Brakebill v. Jaeger, which is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the letter said. Finally, as mothers, daughters and grandmothers, we believe Judge Kavanaugh is a significant threat to the Affordable Care Act and its important protection for pre-existing conditions, as well as to womens reproductive and health care rights.Native People deserve better. We all do.

A report five days ago from Demos said the nominee would "undermineNative American rights and self-government."

The Demos report said**: "**The next Supreme Court Justice could shape American Indian law for decades to come, particularly in light of Justice Kennedys record of consistently voting against the interests of Native American tribes.35 His departure creates an opening for a Supreme Court Justice who will respect the sovereignty and unique experiences of Native Americans. Unfortunately, Kavanaughs record and commentary regarding Native Americans suggests he will be hostile to efforts to protect the rights and self-determination of indigenous people."

Particularly damning, the report said is Kavanaughs assertion that we are just one race here suggests a disregard for a long and brutal history of oppression of Native Americans, which calls into serious question his respect for the self-determination of indigenous people."

The report also questioned the nominee's views about law enforcement and people of color, pointing out that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans are killed in police encounters at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group, followed by African Americans. "Judge Kavanaughs apparent ignorance to this difference in the lived experience of people of color compared to that of white people calls deeply into question his fitness to rule upon ultimate questions of racial equality on the Supreme Court," Demos said.

The Democrats dont have a lot of say in this process. Even if all vote as a bloc (which is not certain) there are not enough votes to stop this nomination. And as soon as today, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to name a successor for Sen. John McCain. By law that appointment must be a Republican and it will likely give the majority an additional vote for the Kavanaugh nomination.

Yet the public is not so sure about the would-be justice. According to a new poll by Politco/Morning Consult only 37 percent of voters say the Senate should vote to confirm Kavanaugh. But even fewer roughly three-in-10, or 29 percent say the Senate shouldnt vote to confirm Kavanaugh. Another third, 34 percent, are undecided. However among Republicans roughly two-thirds support confirmation compared to only 8 percent who would say pass. Among Democrats, 53 percent say the Senate should not confirm Kavanaugh and 15 percent say it should.

The federal budget issues this month are more complex. Leadership in both the Senate and the House want the federal governments spending for next year to be set before the Oct. 1 deadline. But the White House is a different story. The president has said he wants Congress to fully fund a border wall.

Senate and House leaders have focused on passing individual appropriations bills. The Senate has passed 9 of 12 and the House six. Spending for the Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, is now waiting for a conference committee to resolve differences between the two bills. Once resolved, each House will vote again and send the bill on to the president for his approval.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, said the Senate bill is  a clean spending bill. I am particularly proud that we have moved this bill without the addition of contentious authorizing matters or poison pill ridersquite an accomplishment, Udall said. Unfortunately, there are still scores of riders in the House bill. But by voting to send the Senate Interior bill to conference without adding controversial items, we are, as a body, telling the House that we will reject these poison pills once again.

The House might pick a fight. Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and a member of the House Freedom Caucus, tweeted before the House recess that the best way to fund the government was "to Fund the border security wall -Reduce spending outside of defense -#DefundPlannedParenthood We should #DoWhatWeSaid.

In addition to differences between the House and the Senate the appropriations wild card is the president. CNBC reports that the White House is considering at least one alternative option, according to three people who have discussed the idea with West Wing officials: A partial shutdown, in which President Donald Trump would sign stand-alone bills to fund the majority of the government, while reserving the right to veto others if they don't include funding for the border wall.

Under that scenario -- at least if the House reaches a deal with the Senate -- federal Indian programs could be secure for another fiscal year.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports


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