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Extraordinary scenes mark beginning of 4-day hearing for Trump's Supreme Court pick

Handmaid’s Tale protesters and accusations of withheld documents marred the opening statements of Senators today.

UPI 20180904 US Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh smiles as he takes his seat in front of photographers and the committee at the start of his US Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. Source: UPI/PA Images

THE CONFIRMATION HEARING for US President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee exploded into political feuding, with furious Democrats demanding a postponement over withheld documents, and protesters shouting their opposition.

“I move to adjourn,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of several Democrats who interrupted the contentious gathering to insist lawmakers needed time to review thousands of documents related to nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh that were released last night by the administration.

Republicans, facing a possible drubbing in November’s midterm elections, had hoped to use the four-day hearing to highlight Trump’s and the party’s success in getting conservative judges on to courts across the country, and as an opportunity to promote Kavanaugh’s distinguished career as a US Court of Appeals judge in Washington.

Senate Confirmation Hearings For Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh - DC Source: Douliery Olivier/ABACA

Instead, within seconds of Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley banging the gavel, Democrats launched coordinated protests against moving ahead.

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

“The motion is denied,” Grassley responded, as he vowed to carry on through the weekend if necessary.

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

Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court Nomination Hearings Source: Ken Cedeno via PA Images

Tweeting out in response to the hearing, Donald Trump said:

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!

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.

Fully 60% of likely voters in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll said they would prefer the next Congress to be controlled by Democrats, who could act as a check against the president.

Senate Supreme Court Source: Manuel Balce Ceneta

Kavanaugh sat stone-faced as lawmakers bickered and protesters repeatedly erupted from the back of the hearing room, leading police to eject them from the proceedings.

Aged just 53, Kavanaugh would replace retired swing-vote justice Anthony Kennedy in a lifetime appointment, a move that could solidify a hard-right majority on the nine-member court 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.

Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing A demonstrator shouts as Judge Brett Kavanaugh arrives prior to the hearing. Source: DPA/PA Images

Questioning of Kavanaugh begins tomorrow, 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-ally abortions!” one protestor screamed.

Senate Supreme Court Protesters Protesters of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, wear costumes from the show The Handmaid's Tale. Source: Jacquelyn Martin

The scenes were remarkable, even for those with decades of Capitol Hill experience, as lawmakers exchanged heated broadsides.

Senator John Cornyn, the number two Republican, likened the developments to “mob rule”.

“This is something I’ve never gone through before,” acknowledged Grassley.

Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, gives his opening statement. Source: DPA/PA Images

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

But Democrats repeatedly demanded an adjournment in order to be allowed time to study the 42,000 pages released by the White House just 15 hours before the start of the hearing.

‘Downright Orwellian’

They also pushed for the release of 100,000 more pages they say are being withheld by the administration, 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.

News: Brett Kavanaugh Hearing Senator Cory Booker (a Democrat from New Jersey), speaks while Senator Kamala Harris (a Democrat from California) listens during the hearing. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Six hours into the hearing, Kavanaugh had yet to speak. But in excerpts from his opening statement, he said he is a “pro-law judge” 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 don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.

Democrats seized on Kavanaugh’s record, including comments in which he supported an expansion of a US president’s immunity from prosecution – a dramatic shift from his call for strong action against then-president Bill Clinton when Kavanaugh assisted in an investigation against him.

Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, gives her opening statement. Source: DPA/PA Images

Veteran Democrat Dick Durbin told Kavanaugh he believed the nominee “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 insulate Trump.

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

Amid the back and forth by feuding lawmakers, Senate Democrat Patrick Leahy said Republican assertions of a transparent process were “downright Orwellian”.

Matching the tenor of Leahy’s comments, several women dressed as characters from the feminist dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale stood in protest in the Senate building.

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