WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The disclosure on Thursday (Sept 6) of dozens of previously secret e-mails involving Judge Brett Kavanaugh provoked pointed new questions on the third day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, as Democrats pressed him to explain fresh disclosures on abortion rights, affirmative action and previous testimony to the Senate.
Much of the tumult surrounded one quotation from an e-mail that Mr Kavanaugh wrote as a lawyer in George W. Bush's White House concerning the landmark abortion decision, Roe v Wade: "I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so."
To Democrats and abortion rights advocates, that March 2003 statement appeared to contradict testimony from the judge on Wednesday, when he said he considered Roe "settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court".
But Mr Kavanaugh and his Republican backers dismissed its significance. He said he merely was reflecting "an accurate description of all legal scholars", not expressing his own opinion.
The revelations from documents inflamed tensions between the Judiciary Committee's Republicans and Democrats.
The disclosures did not appear to set off a revolt among the Republicans who control the Senate, meaning that Mr Kavanaugh still appears very likely to be confirmed.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key swing vote, indicated to reporters that she accepted Mr Kavanaugh's explanation of the abortion e-mail.
But the documents hardened partisan lines and once again put the spotlight on Democrats' bitter complaints that Republicans have kept tens of thousands of pages of Mr Kavanaugh's White House-era files secret, even from Congress.
The e-mail stemmed from an opinion article drafted by the Bush White House to be run under the names of female abortion opponents backing Mr Bush's judicial nominees.
The opinion article said "it is widely accepted by legal scholars across the board that Roe v Wade and its progeny are the settled law of the land".
Mr Kavanaugh, as a White House aide, objected to that characterisation and asked for its removal from the draft opinion article.
The e-mail prompted a grilling from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), one of the Senate's fiercest defenders of Roe. She pointedly insisted that Mr Kavanaugh give her a "yes or no" answer to the question of whether Roe was "correct law". He would not say.
The late emergence of that and other e-mails, and confusion about what was formally public and what remained technically confidential, added to the tensions.
An unknown person provided many of the secret documents to The New York Times late on Wednesday, which began publishing them on Thursday morning.
Several Democratic senators, including Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), began posting the previously confidential documents on Thursday morning after receiving clearance to do so from Mr William Burck, a lawyer working for former president George W. Bush who had provided the documents to the committee on the condition they be kept confidential.