On Marc Hearron’s first day as Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s lead counsel for judicial nominations, President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hearron joined the staff of the California Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee after 11 years at Morrison & Foerster, where he was a partner in the firm’s Supreme Court and appellate practice. Hearron’s law firm work bore little resemblance to managing a nominations team involved in the most contentious Supreme Court confirmation since the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. We spoke with Hearron about his role on Feinstein’s team and what he learned. The interview that follows was edited for length and clarity.
How did you come to the Senate position?
I spent 11 years in practice after court clerkships. I really enjoyed the work, and in particular, the pro bono work I was doing. I really just wanted to move into the public arena. So when this opening came up at the Judiciary Committee, it was a great opportunity. The Senate Judiciary Committee has such a long and historic reputation. I wanted to be working on issues that I cared so deeply about.
You accepted the job before Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement?
That’s right. My first day was the day of the Kavanaugh nomination. I jumped right into the frying pan. It was truly one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever been through.
What surprised you the most when you stepped into the job?
Someone told me once I got on the Hill—and it’s very true—that when you’re litigating, you may be arguing with the other side about something, but ultimately, a judge is going to decide who’s right. On the Hill, there is no judge. The judge is the court of public opinion, and so you have to really work to try to get the public to care about issues that are going on.
Your role was heading the judicial nomination team for Sen. Feinstein. Who was on your team?
It was small, and then it very quickly ballooned into a very large team, obviously, because of the Kavanaugh nomination. We hired a lot of special counsel to come in and work on a temporary basis. For Kavanaugh, there were hundreds of thousands of pages of documents to review. We reviewed all of the opinions that he wrote, all of the cases that he sat on as a judge. We hired a lot of talented people. Both sides did. There was an area set up for our people as sort of a war room. We called it “the bunker.” It was down in the basement of the Dirksen building.
Even before the Kavanaugh nomination, Senate Judiciary Republicans were moving judicial nominations at a rapid pace. Did that leave time for a personal life?
Well, during the Kavanaugh hearings, I had no personal life, for sure. Once that settled down. I was able to balance things a little bit easier. But the majority was still moving at a record pace.
Was the pace and workload different from your law firm experience?
When you’re at the firm, there are times where it’s just nonstop work. If I have a brief to write and I need to get a huge section of it done in the next 48 hours, I would typically work from home and just shelter myself. There’s not that much flexibility on the Hill. [It’s] more of a face-time culture. You have to always be there to respond to your boss if your boss needs you.
Did you speak to Kavanaugh during the confirmation process or to Dr. Ford?
I did not. I had met him previously. We were in the Edward Coke Appellate Inn of Court at the same time, and I had met him there. There were members of the team who did the background investigation and as part of the investigations, they did speak with him and Dr. Ford. I never met Dr. Ford. We didn’t know what kind of witness she was going to be. We were not coordinating with her.
What took the bulk of your time during the Kavanaugh hearings?
A large part of my role was trying to handle the documents, dealing with document fights [and] negotiations, processing the documents as they came in [and] heading the document team. There also was a team working on questions. I worked on the questions Sen. Feinstein asked [and] questions for the record posed afterwards. I also worked closely with the counsel for the other Democratic committee members.
There was skepticism about the final FBI investigation into the Kavanaugh allegation. Could the U.S. House examine that investigation?
I certainly think that, at a minimum, there should be a look into how the background investigation process is handled in general. I don’t really want to comment on whether the House ought to do its own investigation into the Kavanaugh report. I’ll leave that up to them. But I do think that it would be good to have some rules, at least. The way that the background investigation works is: it’s really done at the request of the White House, and the White House shares the results of the investigation, or agrees to allow the results of the investigation to be shared with the Congress. I think it would be within Congress’s power to pass some legislation about what’s required to be in an investigation.
There has been much criticism of the confirmation process. Are there changes to be made?
I would like to see a return to a spirit of working together, the majority and the minority working together. I think a return to that spirit would lead to some better feelings among the members of the committee. As far as the process itself goes, it is what it is. The framers set it up to be a political process, in my view. And with the court deciding the types of issues that they decide, that affect the everyday lives of millions of Americans, it’s just going to take on the type of importance that it has in the last several hearings. I don’t know of a way to change that, at least not in the near future.
Looking back, what was the best part of the job?
Just being in the middle of the biggest thing going on in the country, waking up every day and going to it, and it’s not even just Kavanaugh. I also actually really enjoyed meeting with the press. That’s the closest that you get to having a judge, talking to a reporter and trying to explain to them what’s going on and then hoping that their story will reflect what is actually happening. So that was fun.
What’s next on your plate?
I’m moving back into a litigation role that’s still in the public arena. I’m going to the Center for Reproductive Rights. I’ve worked with them when I was at MoFo on the Whole Woman’s Health case and the clinic admitting privileges case which I argued in the Fifth Circuit. I know the work they do and I’m very excited to become a part of it.