Chaotic scenes unfolded on Capitol Hill yesterday as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faced his first day of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In a dramatic intervention minutes after the confirmation hearing began, Democrats demanded the hearing be postponed. Senior Democrats on the committee were incensed that 42,000 documents relating to Mr Kavanaugh's work for the George W Bush White House were released to the committee on the eve of the hearing. They argued they had not been given sufficient time to review the documents. Further, the committee's Republican majority argued the documents could not be publicly released as they were covered by constitutional privilege.
Kavanaugh (53) was nominated by US president Donald Trump to replace Andrew Kennedy on the Supreme Court in June after the 82 year-old justice announced his retirement. His confirmation hearing is expected to continue throughout the week. If confirmed he will be the second supreme court justice to have been appointed by Mr Trump since his inauguration last year.
The opening day of the session descended further into chaos as more than two dozen protesters were ejected from the room. Most were women who were protesting against Mr Kavanaugh's perceived conservative stance on issues such as abortion. Several women staged a silent protest outside the committee room dressed in red gowns and white headpieces, a reference to the dystopian novel and TV series 'The Handmaid's Tale."
Senator John Cornyn of Texas said that the confirmation hearing was being held "according to mob rule," as the chairman struggled to maintain order in the committee room. But calls to postpone the hearing were dismissed by chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa.
Noting that a judge is best assessed by his opinions, he said that Mr Kavanaugh’s 307 written opinions had been made available to the committee for consideration as well as thousands more documents relating to his time in the White House. He also said that any move to release confidential documents related to the nominee’s time working in the White House counsel’s office would set a damaging precedent. “Senators have had more than enough time and materials to adequately assess Judge Kavanaugh’s qualifications and so that’s why I proceed,” he said.
Mr Kavanaugh who sits on the DC circuit court and teaches at Yale, Harvard and Georgetown, also has a background in Republican policy.
He worked with special counsel Kenneth Starr during his investigation into Bill Clinton.
Having represented George W Bush in the Bush versus Al Gore recount dispute in Florida after the presidential election of 2000, he then worked for the Bush White House. He had previously served in the solicitor general’s office during the George HW Bush administration.
In his opening statement to the committee Mr Kavanaugh said that a judge “must be independent. A judge must interpret the law, not make the law, [A JUDGE} ]must interpret statues as written…must interpret the constitution as written, informed by history, tradition and precedent.”
He continued: “A good judge must be an umpire, a neutral arbiter who favours no litigant or policy.”
“The Supreme Court must never, ever be viewed as a partisan institution….I will always strive to be a team player on a team of nine.”
Mr Kavanaugh’s position on issues such as abortion and gun rights are likely to be a central point of contention in the coming days.
Senator Diane Feinstein said she intended to press the Yale graduate on both issues. Noting that Mr Trump had said during the campaign trail that he intended to nominate a judge to the Supreme Court who would be “anti-choice and pro-gun,” she said: “We believe what he said.”
But in a sign that Mr Kavanaugh is unlikely to disclose his ideological views on contentious matters, Mr Grassley said in his opening statement that the nominee should follow the precedent set by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Clinton nominee to the court, and refuse to answer questions about specific cases. "It's my advice to him to follow the example set by Judge Ginsburg," he said. "A nominee should offer no hints, no forecasts, no views."