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Protesters interrupt Senate hearing for controversial Supreme Court nominee

The strong opposition to President Donald Trump’s nominee reflects the political stakes just two months before congressional elections in the US.

Quarrelling and confusion have marked the Senate hearing for controversial US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Politically charged arguments about White House documents and confirmation rules got as much attention as the role the conservative judge will likely play in shaping rulings on abortion, executive power and other national issues.

The strong opposition to President Donald Trump’s nominee reflected the political stakes for both parties just two months before congressional elections.

Democrats, including several senators poised for 2020 presidential bids, tried to block the proceedings over Kavanaugh records withheld by the White House.

Republicans in turn accused the Democrats of turning the hearing into a circus, and protesters shouted out frequent and persistent disruptions from the audience.

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A protester gestures as she voices out her objection during a Senate Judiciary Committee nominations hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

In his opening remarks, released ahead of delivery, Judge Kavanaugh sought to tamp down the controversy over his nomination, which would likely shift the closely divided court to the right.

He promised to be a “team player” if confirmed, declaring that he would be a “pro-law judge” who would not decide cases based on his personal views.

But Democrats raised objections from the moment Chairman Chuck Grassley called the committee to order.

One by one, Democrats, including Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, all potential presidential contenders, demanded that Republicans delay the hearing.

They railed against the unusual vetting process by Republicans that failed to include documents from the three years Judge Kavanaugh worked in the George W Bush administration, and 100,000 more pages withheld by the Trump White House.

Some 42,000 pages were released on the evening before of the hearing.

A good judge must be an umpire, a neutral and impartial arbiter who favours no litigant or policy. I would always strive to be a team player on the Team of Nine Brett Kavanaugh

“We cannot possibly move forward, Mr Chairman, with this hearing,” said Ms Harris at the top of proceedings. Mr Grassley disagreed.

As protesters repeatedly interrupted the session, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who is fighting for his own re-election in Texas, apologised to Judge Kavanaugh for the spectacle he said had less to do with the judge’s legal record than Mr Trump in the White House.

“It is about politics,” said Mr Cruz. “It is about Democratic senators re-litigating the 2016 election.”

Republicans’ slim 51-49 majority in the Senate was bolstered during the hearing by the announcement from Arizona that Governor Doug Ducey was appointing Jon Kyl, the former senator, to fill the seat held by the late Senator John McCain.

With majority Republicans appearing united, Democrats appear to have dim prospects of blocking Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

The judge sat silently, occasionally sipping water and taking notes on senators’ points.

He was invited to introduce his parents, wife and children, who sat through much of the outbursts before being escorted out of the room.

Also present were outgoing White House Counsel Don McGahn and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

At the start of proceedings, Senator Richard Blumenthal made several motions to adjourn, saying if the confirmation continued, “this process will be tainted and stained forever”.

Mr Grassley denied multiple requests to postpone, defending the document production as the most open in history.

He said the chaotic scene was something he had “never gone through” in 15 past confirmation hearings.

More than two dozen protesters, shouting one by one, disrupted the hearing at several points and were removed by police.

“This is a mockery and a travesty of justice,” shouted one woman.

“Cancel Brett Kavanaugh!”

Others shouted against the president or to protect abortion access.

“Senators, we need to stop this,” called out one.

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Brett Kavanaugh, left, appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill (Andrew Harnik/AP)

As patience thinned and tempers flared, Senator John Cornyn denounced what he called the “mob rule”.

Struggling to speak over protesters, Senator Orrin Hatch said: “These people are so out of line they shouldn’t be in the doggone room.”

Senator Dick Durbin told Judge Kavanaugh that the unprecedented opposition being shown at the hearing reflected the concern many Americans, have over Mr Trump’s “contempt of the rule of law” and the judge’s own expansive views on executive power.

“It’s that president who’s decided you are his man,” Mr Durbin said.

“Are people nervous about this concerned about this? Of course they are.”

The panel’s top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, sought to provide context for her party’s frustration.

“These are very unique circumstances. Not only is the country deeply divided politically, we also find ourselves with a president who faces his own serious problems,” she said referring to investigations surrounding the president.

“So it’s this backdrop that this nominee comes into.”

In prepared opening remarks, Judge Kavanaugh declared he would be even-handed in his approach to the law.

“A good judge must be an umpire, a neutral and impartial arbiter who favours no litigant or policy,” he said.

“I would always strive to be a team player on the Team of Nine.”

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