WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh declared that a judge should be “a neutral and impartial arbiter” Tuesday at a raucous Senate hearing where Democrats and slogan-shouting protesters accused him of being a partisan jurist.
Kavanaugh, 53, widely viewed as a conservative judge who would shift the court right, repeatedly praised retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was the swing vote on abortion and other key issues and for whom he clerked and was named to replace.
“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,” Kavanaugh said as he took center stage to deliver his opening statement in the packed hearing room to the deeply divided Senate Judiciary Committee.
“As Justice Kennedy showed us, a judge must be independent, not swayed by public pressure,” said Kavanaugh, a judge on the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. “The Supreme Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution.”
On the first day of a weeklong hearing, Republicans praised him as one of the most well-qualified nominees ever and Democrats went on the attack, saying his writings showed he favored powerful Republican interests and tying him to President Donald Trump.
But the day started with more than an hour of motions to adjourn and complaints about 100,000 pages of Kavanaugh records withheld by the White House as Democrats interrupted Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chairman, after he gaveled the hearing to order.
Without those and other still unprocessed records, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) argued, “We can’t possibly move forward.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said holding the hearing before vetting Kavanaugh would be a “charade and a mockery” and result in a “tainted” process.
Grassley rejected their pleas.
Meanwhile, protesters interrupted and shouted slogans — Cancel Kavanaugh and Roe Yes Kavanaugh Nope. U.S. Capitol Police said they removed and charged 61 protesters with disorderly conduct and arrested another nine people for demonstrating nearby.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said protesters had brought in “mob rule.” But Sen. Dick Durbin (R-Ill.) said, “What we have heard is the sound of democracy.”
In tweets, President Donald Trump called the hearing “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.” He added, “So sad to see!”
Democrats repeatedly sought to tie Kavanaugh to the president.
“President Trump promised that he would only nominate judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Judges who would dismantle the Affordable Care Act,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “Judge Kavanaugh, with your nomination, the president appears to be following through on his promises."
Noting that Trump is chafing at special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, Leahy added, “It also seems that you may have intrigued him for another reason: your expansive view of executive power — and executive immunity.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused Democrats of “re-litigating” the 2016 election that they lost. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called them hypocritical, pointing out that Hillary Clinton said she’d appoint justices to protect Roe v Wade.
Kavanaugh entered the hearing room with his wife and two daughters, who stayed for the long, eight-hour day. Kavanaugh paid attention to each of the 21 senators as they expressed their views of him and took notes.
He was introduced by three friends. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Kavanaugh as “wise” and “an old soul.” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he was “a class act.” And liberal Supreme Court litigator Lisa Blatt said Kavanaugh was “the best choice” liberals could hope for given the circumstances
In his 20-minute statement, Kavanaugh, a lawyer who engaged in Republican causes and for Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton, said he does not bring his politics to his job as a judge.
Kavanaugh spoke proudly of his charity and his coaching of his sixth-grade daughter’s basketball team to a championship last year, ticking off the first names of each of the players. He choked up when he mentioned the support of his friends and took a sip of water to recover.
“The Justices on the Supreme Court do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle. 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,” he said.
“Over the past 12 years, I have ruled sometimes for the prosecution and sometimes for criminal defendants, sometimes for workers and sometimes for businesses, sometimes for environmentalists and sometimes for coal miners,” he said.
“In each case, I have followed the law. I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences. I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge,” Kavanaugh said. “I am a pro-law judge.”