The confirmation hearings for Donald Trump's nominee to the US Supreme Court began in chaos as protesters were expelled from the hearing room and Democratic senators clashed with their Republican counterparts.
The Senate confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's US Supreme Court pick, was a scene of chaos on Tuesday, as Democrats protested about Republicans blocking access to documents from the nominee's White House work more than a decade ago.
The session quickly descended into turmoil with Democratic senators interrupting the Judiciary Committee's Republican chairman Chuck Grassley at the outset of the hearing and dozens of shouting protesters removed one by one by security personnel.
"This is the first confirmation for a Supreme Court justice I've seen, basically, according to mob rule," Republican Senator John Cornyn said. It was a characterization rejected by Democrats.
"What we've heard is the noise of democracy. This is what happens in a free country when people can stand up and speak and not be jailed, imprisoned, tortured and killed because of it," Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said.
Moments after Grassley opened the session, Democrats decried the withholding of the documents and asked to have the proceedings adjourned.
Protesters took turns yelling as senators spoke, shouting "This is a travesty of justice," "Our democracy is broken" and "Vote no on Kavanaugh."
No 'meaningful hearing' without documents
"We cannot possibly move forward. We have not had an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing," said California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris.
Democratic Senator Cory Booker appealed to Grassley's "sense of decency and integrity" and said the withholding of the documents by Republicans and the White House left lawmakers unable to properly vet Kavanaugh.
Grassley ignored the Democrats' request to stop the hearing, saying it was "out of order." He also accused them of obstruction. Republicans hold a slim Senate majority and can confirm Kavanaugh if they stay united. There were no signs of Republican defections.
Republican Orrin Hatch accused Democratic senators of political opportunism, noting, "We have folks who want to run for president," though he did not mention any by name. There has been speculation Booker and Harris might consider 2020 presidential runs.
Kavanaugh is controversial
Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27.
Democrats demanded in vain to see documents pertaining to Kavanaugh's time as staff secretary to Republican former President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2006.
Republicans also have released some, but not all, of the existing documents concerning Kavanaugh's two prior years as a lawyer in the White House Counsel's Office under Bush.
Republicans have said Democrats have more than enough documents to assess Kavanaugh's record, which include documents pertaining to his 12 years of judicial opinions as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
As protesters in the audience screamed while being dragged out of the hearing room, Kavanaugh sat fingers intertwined, quietly staring ahead. He occasionally jotted notes on paper.
Read more: Kennedy retirement a game changer for US
There is a long history of heated fights over US Supreme Court nominations. But the Democrat frustrations that boiled over on Tuesday had been simmering for more than two years.
Democrats have accused Senate Republican leaders of stealing a Supreme Court seat when they refused to consider Merrick Garland, Democratic former President Barack Obama's nominee to the high court, in 2016. This allowed Trump to fill a Supreme Court vacancy instead.
Republicans also last year reduced the margin for advancing Supreme Court nominations from 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to a simple majority in order to force through the confirmation of Trump's first high court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
The entire Senate will most likely vote on confirmation by the end of the month. The court begins its next term in October.
av/kl (AP, Reuters, AFP)