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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Chaos and arrests mark Brett Kavanaugh’s first hearing for US Supreme Court confirmation

Donald Trump’s supreme court nominee faces an uphill confirmation process and "Handmaid’s Tale"-inspired protests

US Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is surrounded by photographers as he takes his seat for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
US Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is surrounded by photographers as he takes his seat for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Dozens of demonstrators were arrested on Capitol Hill on Tuesday in what marked a contentious and chaotic start to the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, chosen by US President Donald Trump last July as a replacement for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the US Supreme Court.

Less than a minute into the hearing, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee were quick to call for its adjournment. Their objections relate to the White House's use of executive privilege to block the release of some of the documents on the candidate’s service, and the abrupt handover by a lawyer for former president George W Bush of more than 42,000 pages of documents to the committee on Monday night without enough time for the senators to review them.

Others took issue with the committee requesting prior clearance of questions and videos to be shown at the hearing. There were at least 63 interruptions during the hearing by senators.

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“What are we trying to hide? Why are we rushing?” Senator Patrick Leahy asked the committee’s chairman Chuck Grassley. As the hearing went on, protesters in the room disrupted the process:

Some, dressed in Handmaid’s Tale costumes inspired by the dystopian show based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, organised a silent protest outside the hearing room to decry Mr Kavanaugh’s positions on abortion.

Mr Kavanaugh was also approached by Fred Guttenberg, the father of one of the students who was killed in the shooting in Parkland, Florida earlier this year, who tried unsuccessfully to shake hands with the nominee:

If confirmed, Mr Kavanaugh would swing the US Supreme Court to the right. But an ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Tuesday showed a big divide over his nomination. According to the poll, 38 per cent of Americans say he should be confirmed, while 39 per cent oppose it, making him among the least popular candidates for the nation’s highest court since 1987.

These numbers give Democrats an opening to attempt and derail his nomination this week. Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Centre for American Progress, told The National that the Democrats are beginning “to fight back against this outrageous Republican attempt to rush Mr Kavanaugh through before the walls fall in on them and on Mr Trump”.

The latest polls show Democrats holding a growing edge on the generic ballot in the Congressional midterms elections in two months.

Mr Gude explained that given Mr Kavanaugh’s unpopularity and the ongoing Mueller investigation, “Democrats have the power to delay these hearings, maybe even until after the midterms”.

He said senate rules "require almost all action to proceed by either unanimous consent or a vote”.

“One of those things is for any hearing lasting longer than two hours, Democrats could deny unanimous consent and force a vote on floor to proceed.” The Republicans only have 50 votes, and can risk to lose none.

For their part the Democrats are attempting to rally the American public against Mr Kavanuagh’s positions on health care and gun issues in hopes to bring moderate Republican to their side.

Noah Rothman, an associate editor at Commentary Magazine, said the Democrats’ disruptions on Tuesday were more of a show than anything else.

“Democrats thoughtlessly listened to their base and dispensed with their own minority privileges in defiance of all good judgment by filibustering a Supreme Court nominee who had the support of three members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate,” Mr Rothman told The National. “Now, the Democrats' only option is to interrupt the committee chair and mug for the cameras … but they can do nothing to block this nomination.

“None of this is strategic, and Democratic voters should demand more than performative displays from their members of Congress.”

The Kavanaugh hearings are expected to last all week and could stretch into the weekend if no confirmation vote was possible before then.

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