A student who survived the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., urged the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday to oppose the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh because of the nominee’s views that the high court’s rulings limit regulation of certain certain semi-automatic weapons.
“As you make your final decision, think about it as if you had to justify and defend your choice to those who lost to gun violence,” said Aalayah Eastmond, who was a junior at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last Feb. 14 when a gunman killed 17 students and adults.
Eastmond, 17, spoke on a witness panel on the last day of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, when the committee heard from some 26 witnesses for and against the nominee. Among the other witnesses against Kavanaugh were two other teenagers, who spoke about health care and environmental regulation, and a public school teacher.
Eastmond described how she was in her Holocaust History class at Stoneman Douglas when the shooting began, and she hid behind the body of classmate Nicholas Dworet, whom she learned later died in the violence.
“We all ran out passing bodies in the hallway,” said Eastmond, who is now a senior. Outside the school, “friends were picking body parts out of my hair.”
Eastmond is now a youth leader for the Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and a leader with Team ENOUGH, a group founded by student activists.
Kavanaugh, who was not present during Friday’s session full of witness panels, drew attention at various times during his testimony earlier in the week for a 2011 dissent he wrote in a gun regulation case decided by his current court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Kavanaugh would have struck down a District of Columbia law prohibiting semi-automatic rifles, saying his view was based on his reading of a legal test established by the Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which upheld possession of handguns because they were not traditionally banned and were in common use by law-abiding citizens.
“I’m very concerned since learning Brett Kavanaugh’s views on guns, and how he would strike down any assault weapon ban,” Eastmond said. “Too many dangerous people remain able to readily access and use guns to terrorize Americans at home, work, school, church, on our streets, and anywhere we go on our day-to-day life.”
“The youth is urging our society to recognize the depth and seriousness of the gun violence epidemic in America,” Eastmond continued. “We are all here with an urgent message for you. If the youth across the country can fight to eradicate gun violence, why can’t judges, lawmakers and Donald Trump understand that young people are dying from this senseless gun violence.”
The audience in the Hart Senate Office Building hearing room, as well as all of those committee members present, applauded when Eastmond finished.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., lauded Eastmond as well as Jackson Corbin, a 13-year-old student from Hanover, Pa., with existing medical conditions who expressed concern about Kavanaugh’s views on the Affordable Care Act; and Hunter Lachance, a student with asthma from Kennebunk, Maine, who worried about the nominee’s view on environmental regulation.
But Whitehouse warned that the students are “up against powerful forces in this society,” such as the National Rifle Association, ardent opponents of the health-care law, and polluters.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who had an exchange on Thursday with Kavanaugh over gun violence, choked up as he told Eastmond that he had gone to the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 when a gunman killed 26 children and adults.
If Kavanaugh were before her, Blumenthal said, “what would you say to him?”
“That my life, along with all the other lives, is more important than that gun,” Eastmond said.
The panel also included Melissa Smith, a social studies teacher at U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City, who expressed opposition to Kavanaugh because of his record of supporting private school voucher programs while he was a private lawyer in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“Judge Kavanaugh’s stated position on private school vouchers would exacerbate the [school funding] situation in Oklahoma City,” Smith said. “Vouchers do nothing to help student achievement but do everything to undermine the public schools that 90 percent of the children in this nation attend.”
“Siphoning money away from public education will destroy public schools,” she said.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told Smith that Kavanaugh’s role as a judge was different from that of a policymaker, but she said she worried the nominee’s personal views would influence his decisions on the high court.
The Judiciary Committee will likely hold its vote on Kavanaugh on Sept 20. Senate Republicans are hoping to see him confirmed by the full Senate in time to join the Supreme Court for the Oct. 1 opening of its new term.
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.