Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh sat through seven hours of shrill protests and Democratic warnings that he represented a legal apocalypse if confirmed to the Supreme Court — then tried to defuse those complaints, promising Tuesday to be a careful judge and “team player” with the other justices.
His testimony was a moment of calm amid an otherwise wild day. More than five dozen protesters were ousted from the hearing, anti-Trump activists leveled rash allegations of racism against the Trump team assisting the judge, and Democrats deployed rhetorical and procedural tools to try to derail the nomination.
GOP senators vowed to resist those efforts and keep on track for vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 20, with a floor vote the final week of the month. That would put Judge Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court before the new term begins Oct. 1.
Looking to avoid any stumbles, Judge Kavanaugh kept to his script, describing himself in his opening statement as a disciple of the law, though always with an eye for the Americans affected by his rulings.
“A good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” Judge Kavanaugh said. “I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge.”
He also praised Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, his mentor and the man whom he has been nominated to replace, and spoke glowingly of the Supreme Court’s role as “the last line of defense” against an imperial president or Congress.
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“The Supreme Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution. The justices on the Supreme Court do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle. They do not caucus in separate rooms,” he said. “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. I would always strive to be a team player on the team of nine.”
That was good enough for GOP senators, who called Judge Kavanaugh a legal giant.
They said his resume of 12 years as an judge on the federal circuit court in Washington, D.C., his classes taught at Harvard and Yale law schools, the glowing reviews from lawyers, students and fellow judges, and the legal approval of the Supreme Court, which has adopted his reasoning in 13 different cases already, prove he’s earned a promotion to sit with the justices.
“I know a good nominee when I see one, and you are a great nominee,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, who’s voted on every current member of the Supreme Court and most of the judges sitting on federal circuits as well.
Committee Democrats countered that what they know about the judge scares them — but they’re even more concerned with what they don’t yet know, but could be hiding in millions of pages of documents from Judge Kavanaugh’s time working in the Bush White House.
While about 500,000 pages of documents have been turned over from his early years in the White House counsel’s office, a larger set of documents from his time as staff secretary to President George W. Bush won’t be released.
Tuesday’s hearing was less than a minute old before Democrats raised objections to the proceedings, in a coordinated attack.
Several complained about 42,000 pages of documents dumped on them late Monday, just hours before the hearing.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, even moved to adjourn the committee, arguing senators couldn’t be asked to judge a nominee without all the documents.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and the panel chairman, ruled him out of order.
But Mr. Grassley did allow Democrats to vent for the first hour, delaying the start of the proceedings but, he said, letting them work out some of their anger.
When they did turn to Judge Kavanaugh himself, Democrats said he represented a critical swing vote on a court currently divided between four Democratic appointees and four Republican appointees. They said that could affect such issues as gun control, abortion and immigration.
Mr. Trump also weighed heavily on the proceedings, with Democrats saying the president’s legal entanglements poison the entire process.
Mr. Blumenthal pointed to a recent guilty plea by Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, who admitted to campaign finance violations and said he made them on Mr. Trump’s orders.
“He is an unindicted co-conspirator who has nominated a potential justice who will cast the swing vote on issues relating to his possible criminal culpability,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “No one can select a judge in his own case. That’s what the president is potentially doing here.”
Twitter, meanwhile, exploded with accusations from anti-Trump commenters that Zina Bash, a White House aide sitting behind Judge Kavanaugh during the proceedings was flashing a “white power” symbol to the camera by resting her thumb and forefinger in a circle on her other arm.
Her husband John Bash, who’s also the U.S. attorney for the western district of Texas, took to Twitter to mock the accusations, saying his wife is Mexican on her mother’s side and Jewish on her father’s side, with her grandparents surviving the Holocaust.
“We weren’t even familiar with the hateful symbol being attributed to her for the random way she rested her hand during a long hearing,” he said on his official U.S. attorney twitter account.
Meanwhile a father of one of the victims of February’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting complained that he tried to shake Judge Kavanaugh’s hand during one of the breaks in the hearing but was rebuffed.
Fred Guttenberg then took to Twitter to chide the judge for refusing to be confronted by “the reality of gun violence.”
The White House countered with a video showing Judge Kavanaugh being taken by surprise by the man as security intervenes and hustles the judge away.