WASHINGTON — The confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh launched Tuesday as a bitter political brawl, with loud objections from Democratic senators, the arrests of dozens of protesters and questions even from some Republicans about how Kavanaugh would separate himself from President Trump, the man who nominated him.

But Republican senators mostly calmly defended Kavanaugh from what Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the Shakespearean nature of the hearing – “sound and fury, signifying nothing” – confident that there were no defections from the solid Republican support Kavanaugh needs to become the court’s 114th justice.

The 53-year-old judge, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, sat impassively for nearly seven hours of senators’ statements before making brief opening comments. Questioning of him begins Wednesday morning.

“The Supreme Court must never, never be viewed as a partisan institution,” Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The Justices on the Supreme Court do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle. They do not caucus in separate rooms. If confirmed to the Court, I would be part of a Team of Nine, committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution and laws of the United States. I would always strive to be a team player on the Team of Nine.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s, R-Iowa, opening remarks were delayed for nearly an hour and a half as Democratic senators sought to cut off the confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh, raising an uproar over a last-minute document dump sent to the committee late Monday encompassing more than 42,000 pages from the nominee’s tenure in the George W. Bush White House.

Trump later denounced the revolt by Democrats, tweeting, “The Brett Kavanaugh hearings for the future Justice of the Supreme Court are truly a display of how mean, angry, and despicable the other side is. They will say anything, and are only looking to inflict pain and embarrassment to one of the most highly renowned jurists to ever appear before Congress. So sad to see!”


The specter of Trump himself, who has frequently leveled attacks on the judiciary, loomed large during the hearing’s opening hours as Democrats and even some Republicans raised concerns about the president’s attitude toward institutions and norms.

Two Republican senators – Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Jeff Flake of Arizona – praised Kavanaugh personally and professionally, but also raised questions about Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department and how Kavanaugh would handle cases involving presidential power.

In a tweet on Monday, Trump criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the recent indictments of two Republican members of Congress on corruption charges and for the timing that is so close to House midterm elections – a comment chastised by Sasse and Flake immediately after it was made. The two Republicans repeated their condemnation during Kavanaugh’s hearing.

“That is why a lot of people are concerned about this administration and why they want to ensure that our institutions hold,” Flake said. He added that “many of the questions you will get on the other side of the aisle and from me will” center on separation of powers.

The protesters, who were predominantly women, repeatedly heckled the senators and Kavanaugh as they argued that installing Trump’s second pick to the Supreme Court would irreparably end access to abortion and dismantle the Affordable Care Act. U.S. Capitol Police said they arrested 70 people for disorderly conduct or unlawful demonstration activities.



Democrats have charged that documents on Kavanaugh’s career have been withheld without justification, particularly those from his tenure as a Bush staffer. Senators have reviewed nearly 200,000 pages that cannot be disclosed to the public, and the Trump administration is withholding another 100,000 pages from Congress altogether, claiming those documents would be covered by presidential privilege.

“What are we trying to hide? Why are we rushing?” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked.

Kavanaugh, appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by Bush, served the president in the White House Counsel’s Office from 2001 to 2003 and as staff secretary from 2003 to 2006.

Leahy said there are gaping holes in the record, spanning several years of Kavanaugh’s career in the Bush White House, and that the Senate was abandoning its obligation by not first reviewing those documents before beginning confirmation hearings this week. “It’s not only shameful, it’s a sham,” Leahy said. “This is the most incomplete, most partisan, least transparent vetting for any Supreme Court nominee I have ever seen.”

Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jamie Guttenberg who was killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., left, attempts to shake hands with President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, right, as he leaves for a lunch break while appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, to begin his confirmation to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh did not shake his hand.

As tempers got heated Tuesday, Grassley denied the moves from Democrats to adjourn the proceedings, saying that he would press on with the hearing and that he expects Kavanaugh to be confirmed.

Democrats continued to insist on a vote on their motions as the hearing veered seriously off track for more than an hour, at which point Grassley resumed reading his opening statement.

Tuesday’s proceedings brought to the surface years of anger over judicial nominees. Democrats invoked the name of Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2016 to fill the Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late justice Antonin Scalia, then denied a hearing by Senate Republicans.

In his remarks, Kavanaugh praised Garland, the chief judge on the appeals court on which they both serve, as “superb” – a line likely to further rile Democrats.


Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the Democrats’ behavior would lead them to be “held in contempt of court,” prompting a chorus of quiet boos and “oh come on” echoed throughout the hearing room. He later said the hearing had turned into “mob rule.”

Democratic Sens. Corey Booker, D-N.J., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listen during Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing in Washington on Tuesday.

Several senators, including Grassley and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said they felt personally attacked. Kavanaugh’s family sat stone-faced as a prolonged debate ensued about the standards of releasing records on earlier Supreme Court nominees.

Kavanaugh told senators he will be “a neutral and impartial arbiter” if confirmed.

“I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences,” Kavanaugh said.

“I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge,” Kavanaugh said. “I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge.”

In Kavanaugh’s statement, he also paid tribute to Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom he has been nominated to replace, according to the excerpts.

“To me, Justice Kennedy is a mentor, a friend, and a hero,” Kavanaugh said. “As a member of the Court, he was a model of civility and collegiality. He fiercely defended the independence of the Judiciary. And he was a champion of liberty.”

As the first day got underway, Grassley lavishly praised the qualifications of Trump’s nominee.

“Judge Kavanaugh is one of the most qualified nominees – if not the most qualified nominee – that I’ve seen,” Grassley said, adding that his “extensive record demonstrates a deep commitment to the rule of law.”


In a preview of the tough questions Kavanaugh will face Wednesday, Democratic senators said they would press the judge on his views about abortion, gun control and executive power.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., addressed Kavanaugh about abortion. The question, she said, is not whether Kavanaugh believes that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is “settled law,” as he has told other senators, but “whether you believe it is the correct law.”

Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said she is concerned about Kavanaugh’s dissent in a recent case involving a pregnant immigrant teen in federal custody. Kavanaugh disagreed with his colleagues on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit who ordered the Trump administration to allow access to abortion services.

Kavanaugh wrote that the court was creating “a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand.”

Feinstein also described Kavanaugh as “outside the mainstream on guns” and expressed concern about the loosening of gun control laws. In 2011, Kavanaugh dissented when his colleagues upheld Washington’s ban on semiautomatic rifles. Kavanaugh pointed to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision declaring an individual right to gun ownership apart from military service.

“Gun bans and gun regulations that are not long-standing or sufficiently rooted in text, history, and tradition are not consistent with the Second Amendment individual right,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he would resurrect a controversy from Kavanaugh’s 2006 confirmation battle over whether Kavanaugh was involved in developing Bush-era policy on the treatment of terrorism suspects. Kavanaugh worked as a White House associate counsel at the time that President George W. Bush developed his policy, laid out in what became known as the “torture memo.”

Kavanaugh testified as a nominee for the D.C. Circuit that he was “not involved.”

Later, Kavanaugh’s denial came into question when The Washington Post revealed he had participated in a White House Counsel’s Office meeting in which he had been asked his opinion about how Justice Kennedy – for whom he had clerked – was likely to view the matter.

Durbin, who was also on the Judiciary committee in 2006, said Tuesday that he would press Kavanaugh to explain the discrepancy.

In response, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, defended Kavanaugh and said the suggestion that the judge had “misled this committee in any way is absurd.”


Even before protests began inside the hearing room, groups of demonstrators were walking the hallways of the Senate Hart building. With the future of abortion rights at stake, dozens of women dressed in crimson robes and white bonnets as characters from the television series, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” stood silently outside the hearing room.

Once the hearing began, one by one, the mostly female protesters in the audience stood to loudly object to Kavanaugh’s nomination and urge the senators to “vote no.”

“This lifetime appointment will be devastating to women’s rights, voting rights, gay rights,” one woman shouted.

“An illegitimate president cannot make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” another said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called for the removal of the “loudmouth” as his remarks were interrupted by chants of “Hell nah, Kavanaugh!”

Durbin, meanwhile, said of the protests: “What we’ve heard is the noise of democracy.”

The protesters were quickly and for the most part quietly pulled out by Capitol Police officers who flanked the back wall of the hearing room.

About an hour into the hearing, the White House issued a tally of how many times Democratic senators on the committee had interrupted others on the panel. The total was 44 by its count, with Blumenthal topping the list with 13 interruptions.

Democrats began crying foul over the confirmation process before the hearing began.

“We go to these hearings under protest,” Feinstein said during a news conference on the steps of the Supreme Court.

“I’ve never had a hearing like this, where documents are so difficult to get,” said Feinstein, who was flanked by fellow Democrats on the committee.

Yet Democrats have been resistant to break with Senate norms and release the documents classified as committee confidential, which total nearly 200,000 pages that senators have been able to review but has been concealed from the public.

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