Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court pick who could tilt American jurisprudence to the right for a generation, vowed to be neutral and impartial, shrugging off bitter Democratic demands for him to stall his own confirmation hearing until questions about his past are fully answered.
President Donald Trump’s second pick for the nation’s highest court sat silently for much of the day as Democrats staged an aggressive, coordinated effort to slow his apparent march to confirmation — in exchanges that highlighted several potential 2020 presidential contenders, including California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
In addition, Capitol Police said they made 70 arrests Tuesday for protests during the hearing and in other parts of Capitol Hill.
After seven hours of political sparring mostly aimed by senators at their constituencies outside the hearing room, Kavanaugh finally got the chance to speak, and delivered emotional tributes to members his family and his friends — but resolved none of the issues that Democrats say should derail his nomination.
In a comment that seemed to fly in the face of a day of political estrangement, he warned that the Supreme Court “must never be viewed as a partisan institution” and argued that “a good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy.”
Democrats angrily accused the White House and Republicans of hiding key details about Kavanaugh’s time as a Bush-era White House lawyer by refusing to publicly release tens of thousands of documents. They also decried a dump of 42,000 documents on Monday night, hours before the hearing.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, put the issue directly to Kavanaugh: “For the sake of this nation, for the sanctity of the Constitution that we both honor, step up, ask this meeting, this gathering to suspend until all the documents of your public career are there for the American people to see.”
Kavanaugh, Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, is poised to succeed swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, the conservative-centrist who joined with liberals in some key decisions to uphold abortion rights. Kennedy was also the decisive vote for same-sex marriage and university affirmative action.
Trump, watching the hearings from the White House, lashed out at Democrats for attacking Kavanaugh, whose arrival on the Supreme Court bench would represent a historic triumph for the President.
“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 tweeted.
His hardball language contrasted with the optimistic cadence of the closing remarks from Kavanaugh, who likely faces an even more contentious day when senators begin to ply him with questions on Wednesday.
“I live on the sunny side of the mountain,” Kavanaugh said.
Democrats open with a flurry
The hearing opened with an hour of squabbling between Democrats and Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, that was punctuated by screaming protests from the public gallery as anti-Kavanaugh demonstrators were bundled out by Capitol Police.
The theatrics reflect the impotence of Democrats who lack the votes in the Senate to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation. It is not even certain all Democrats will stick together since endangered liberal senators up for re-election in red states are under intense pressure to back the confirmation.
The clashes in the hearing were part of a long awaited political spectacle. But consistent with the uproar of the Trump era, Kavanaugh was upstaged even before he delivered his opening statement, as stunning revelations began to emerge of a new book by veteran reporter Bob Woodward that portrays Trump as a grave threat to national security and raging and incompetent.
“What are we trying to hide, why are we rushing?” Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy asked as the hearing began.
But Grassley denied Democratic attempts to get a vote in the committee on whether to adjourn the hearing, and complaints that the late arrival of the documents and other controversies flew in the face of committee rules and basic fairness.
“This is something I have never gone through before in 15 Supreme Court nominations. I was interrupted before I got a chance to say the agenda for today,” said Grassley.
Republican Sen John Cornyn of Texas complained the hearing was being overtaken by “mob rule” His colleague Orrin Hatch from Utah demanded that a “loudmouth” protester who was drowning out his remarks should be removed.
Kavanaugh watched the arguments in the committee with a bemused look on his face, with his pen poised over a white legal pad.
When the hearing turned from controversy over process to substance, Durbin thrust home the meat of the Democratic case.
“You are the nominee of President Donald John Trump. This is a President who has shown us consistently that he is contemptuous of the rule of law,” Durbin said. “It’s that President who has decided you are his man.”
A ”umpire’ judge’
Kavanaugh’s use of the umpire analogy to refer to the duties of a judge recalled Chief Justice John Roberts’ confirmation hearing back in 2005, when he said his “job is to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”
He also praised Kennedy, who announced his retirement earlier this summer.
“As Justice Kennedy showed us, a judge must be independent, not swayed by public pressure. Our independent Judiciary is the crown jewel of our Constitutional republic” Kavanaugh said.
“If confirmed to the Supreme 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.”
Kavanaugh, currently a circuit judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, also praise his colleague Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s unsuccessful Supreme Court nominee, as a “superb chief judge.”
The hearing will continue Wednesday morning with questions from senators.