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article imageChaotic opening day hearing for Trump's Supreme Court pick

By Michael Mathes (AFP)     Sep 4, 2018 in Politics

The confirmation hearing for US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick exploded into political acrimony Tuesday with Democrats demanding a postponement over withheld documents, as the nominee pledged to keep an "open mind" on all cases before the court.

The contentious eight-hour Senate Judiciary Committee meeting was punctuated by dozens of interruptions by opposition Democrats and protesters as Judge Brett Kavanaugh sat stone-faced during the proceedings.

After hours of the fireworks, the nominee himself struck a more neutral tone, stressing that the high court "must never, never be viewed as a partisan institution."

"If confirmed to the Supreme Court, I will keep an open mind in every case. I will do equal right to the poor and to the rich," he added.

Republicans, facing a possible drubbing in November's midterm elections, had hoped to use the four-day hearing to highlight Kavanaugh's distinguished career as a US Court of Appeals judge in Washington.

Instead, within seconds of committee chairman Chuck Grassley banging the gavel, Democrats took the unprecedented step of launching immediate and coordinated protests.

"I move to adjourn," said Senator Richard Blumenthal, insisting that lawmakers needed more time to review thousands of Kavanaugh-related documents that the administration released late Monday, just hours before the hearing.

"This process will be tainted and stained forever" should it proceed as scheduled, Blumenthal said.

Grassley forged ahead undeterred, although he largely let the dissenters speak their mind.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, Trump will have appointed two justices to the nine-member bench in his first 20 months in office.

The president lashed out at the Democrats for their "despicable" behavior.

"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," Trump said on Twitter. "So sad to see!"

- 'Mob rule' -

US Senator Kamala Harris was among several Democrats who sought to delay the confirmation hearing
US Senator Kamala Harris was among several Democrats who sought to delay the confirmation hearing
Brendan Smialowski, AFP

The confirmation process takes center stage with just two months before midterm elections that will decide whether Republicans maintain their control of both chambers of Congress.

Trump is facing dismal approval ratings as special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of possible Russian collusion with Trump's team closes in on the White House.

Aged just 53, Kavanaugh would replace retired swing-vote justice Anthony Kennedy in a lifetime appointment, a move that could solidify a hard-right court majority and help shape key aspects of American society for a generation or more.

Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the Senate. Should a single Republican defect to oppose Kavanaugh, it could throw his confirmation into jeopardy, although there has been little sign that any GOP senator was prepared to buck Trump.

Questioning of Kavanaugh begins Wednesday, when Democrats are expected to strongly press him on his endorsement of presidential immunity, and notably on his position on abortion and the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling.

Trump campaigned on a promise to nominate pro-life judges and justices, and Democrats warn that Kavanaugh may seek to overturn Roe.

"More women are going to be sent to back-alley abortions!" one protester screamed as she was removed by police.

The scenes were remarkable, even for those with decades of Capitol Hill experience. Republican Senator John Cornyn likened the interruptions to "mob rule."

In defense of Kavanaugh, Grassley argued that the panel had already received 400,000 pages of Kavanaugh-related documents.

But Democrats repeatedly demanded additional time to study the 42,000 pages released by the White House just 15 hours before the start of the hearing.

- 'Above the law?' -

A protestor is escorted out of the room as US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh  attends a rauco...
A protestor is escorted out of the room as US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attends a raucous first day of his Senate confirmation hearing, on September 4, 2018
Brendan Smialowski, AFP

They also pushed for the release of 100,000 more pages they say are being withheld, particularly those related to Kavanaugh's time in George W. Bush's legal office and as White House staff secretary.

"What is the rush? What are we hiding by not letting these documents come out?" asked Senator Cory Booker.

Kavanaugh said he has been a "pro-law judge" who does not seek a pre-ordained outcome, and who would bring his impartiality to the nation's high court.

"A good judge must be an umpire -- a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy," Kavanaugh said in the excerpts released by the White House.

"I do not decide cases based on personal or policy preferences."

Democrats seized on Kavanaugh's comments in which he supported an expansion of a US president's immunity from prosecution -- a dramatic shift from his recommendation for strong action against then-president Bill Clinton when Kavanaugh assisted in a 1990s investigation against him.

The US Senate confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee  Judge Br...
The US Senate confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, drew several protesters, including women dressed as characters from the dystopian 1985 novel "The Handmaid's Tale"
Jim WATSON, AFP

Veteran Democrat Dick Durbin said Kavanaugh "totally reversed" after working in the White House when Bush was considering warrantless wiretapping and torture of enemy combatants, and warned that a similar position would only serve to insulate Trump.

"Is this president, or any president, above the law?" Durbin asked Kavanaugh.

Among those introducing Kavanaugh was Democratic friend and attorney Lisa Blatt, who said that because the presidency and Senate are in Republican hands, "Judge Kavanaugh is the best choice that liberals could reasonably hope for in these circumstances."

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