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Kavanaugh hearing: Trump's nominee will pledge to be 'a neutral and impartial arbiter'

Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Supreme Court associate justice nominee for President Donald Trump, walks through the U.S. Capitol in Washington on July 10, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer.

WASHINGTON - The confirmation hearing for Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh began with fireworks on Tuesday, as Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee complained about a lack of access to documents and unsuccessfully sought to delay the proceedings.

Democrats repeatedly interrupted the opening statement of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa - as protesters in the room heckled the senators - and sought to adjourn the hearing.

"What are we trying to hide. Why are we rushing?" Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., asked.

Democrats have charged that documents on Kavanaugh's career have been withheld without justification. Tensions flared Monday night when a lawyer for former president George W. Bush turned over 42,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh's service in the Bush White House to the committee on the eve of the hearings.

Grassley said he would press on with the hearing and expects Kavanaugh to be confirmed, inviting Kavanaugh to introduce his family.

Kavanaugh on Tuesday plans to tell the Senate Committee weighing his nomination to the Supreme Court that he will be "a neutral and impartial arbiter" if confirmed, according to excerpts of his opening statement.

"I don't decide cases based on personal or policy preferences," Kavanaugh says in the excerpts, released by the White House on Tuesday.

"I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge," Kavanaugh says. "I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge."

The excerpts were released about two hours before the start of Kavanaugh's four-day appearance before the Judiciary Committee, which was expected to be highly contentious.

As the first day got underway, Grassley lavishly praised the qualifications of President Donald Trump's nominee.

"Judge Kavanaugh is one of the most qualified nominees - if not the most qualified nominee - I have seen," Grassley said, adding that his "extensive record demonstrates a deep commitment to the rule of law."

In Kavanaugh's statement, expected later in the day after other senators on the committee make opening statements, he will also pay tribute to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom he has been nominated to replace, according to the excerpts.

"To me, Justice Kennedy is a mentor, a friend, and a hero," Kavanaugh says. "As a Member of the Court, he was a model of civility and collegiality. He fiercely defended the independence of the Judiciary. And he was a champion of liberty."

Kavanaugh also pledges to be a "team player" in the excerpts.

"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," Kavanaugh says. "I would always strive to be a team player on the Team of Nine."

Democrats, meanwhile, continued to cry foul Tuesday morning over the confirmation process, complaining about the number of documents from Kavanaugh's career that have not been made public.

"We go to these hearings under protest," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Calif., the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said during a news conference on the steps of the Supreme Court.

"I've never had a hearing like this, where documents are so difficult to get," said Feinstein, who was flanked by fellow Democrats on the committee.

The latest flash point is a lawyer for former president George W. Bush turning over 42,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh's service in the Bush White House to the committee on Monday night.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., described fellow Democrats on the committee as "boiling mad" and complained of a "real banana-republic process."

"Last night, after the close of business on the last day of a holiday weekend, we got a document dump of 42,000 pages of documents," Whitehouse said during an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "The idea that any judge in the United States would go forward with a trial the day after a document dump like that is preposterous, and yet here we are going ahead because they're so desperate to jam this guy onto the court."

Kavanaugh, appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by Bush, served the president in the White House Counsel's Office from 2001 to 2003 and as staff secretary from 2003 to 2006.

The Bush lawyer who turned over the documents Monday night asked that they be kept from the public, made available only to committee members and staff.

In his opening statement, Grassley downplayed concerns about access to documents.

"In short, the American people have unprecedented access and more materials to review for Judge Kavanaugh than they ever had for a Supreme Court nominee," Grassley said. "And to support the review of Judge Kavanaugh's historic volume of material, I've worked to ensure that more senators have more access to more material than ever."

One line in Kavanaugh's opening statement is likely to rile Democrats.

According to the excerpts released by the White House, Kavanaugh will praise Merrick Garland, the chief judge on the appeals court on which they both serve, as "superb."

Garland was nominated by President Barack Obama in March 2016 to fill the Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late justice Antonin Scalia. Much to the dismay of Senate Democrats, Republican leaders of the chamber never held a hearing on Garland's nomination.


This article was written by John Wagner, a reporter for The Washington Post.