The confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh quickly devolved into a political brawl.

Democrats loudly objected to the proceedings as rushed, one prominent Republican railed about "mob rule," and dozens of protesters interrupted senators.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley's opening remarks were delayed for nearly an hour and a half as Democratic senators sought to cut off the confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh, raising an uproar over a last-minute document dump sent to the Judiciary Committee encompassing more than 42,000 pages from the nominee's tenure in the George W. Bush White House.

And the protesters, who were predominantly women, repeatedly heckled the senators and Kavanaugh as they argued that installing President Donald Trump's second pick to the Supreme Court would irreparably end access to abortion and dismantle the Affordable Care Act.


"What are we trying to hide? Why are we rushing?" Senator Patrick Leahy, D, asked.

Democrats have charged that documents on Kavanaugh's career have been withheld without justification, particularly those from his tenure as a Bush staffer.

Senators have reviewed nearly 200,000 pages that cannot be disclosed to the public, and the Trump Administration is withholding another 100,000 pages from Congress altogether, claiming those documents would be covered by presidential privilege.

Leahy said there are gaping holes in the record, spanning several years of Kavanaugh's career in the Bush White House, and that the Senate was abandoning its obligation by not first reviewing those documents before beginning confirmation hearings this week.

"It's not only shameful, it's a sham," Leahy said. "This is the most incomplete, most partisan, least transparent vetting for any Supreme Court nominee I have ever seen."

As tempers got heated, Grassley denied the moves from Democrats to adjourn the proceedings, saying he would press on with the hearing and that he expects Kavanaugh to be confirmed.

Senator Kamala Harris, D, and Senator Cory Booker, D, pause as protesters disrupt the confirmation hearing.
Senator Kamala Harris, D, and Senator Cory Booker, D, pause as protesters disrupt the confirmation hearing.

Democrats seized on the document decision as a way to protest against the nomination.

Two moments on the first day of confirmation hearings dramatically illustrated that tactic.


The first moment came when Senator Richard Durbin, D, theatrically pulled out a copy of the Constitution and said he could not find the name of William Burck in the section where it says Congress should provide "advice and consent" to nominations.

Burck, a private lawyer, is a Kavanaugh associate who works with the Bush presidential library and is helping oversee the decisions about which documents from Kavanaugh's time as Bush's associate counsel should be given to Congress or made public.

The second came when Democratic aides held up a calendar with 35 months blacked out.

That is the period of time when Kavanaugh served as Bush's staff secretary - and for which the White House has said no documents need to be produced because they involve confidential discussions.

Democrats said the amount of withheld documents was so great that the session should be postponed.

Republicans said, however, that hundreds of thousands of documents have been released and that the White House has the right to invoke presidential privilege to keep sensitive documents out of public view.

US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, takes notes.
US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, takes notes.

The controversy over the documents has been growing for weeks, as Republicans try to seat Kavanaugh in time for the Supreme Court term that begins in October, and Democrats seek to push the process beyond the Midterm elections in November when they hope to regain majorities in Congress.

In early August, the National Archives, which holds or has access to many records related to Kavanaugh's time working for Bush and independent counsel Kenneth Starr, said it could not produce all of the Kavanaugh-related documents requested by the Senate until the end of October.

But the Senate Judiciary Committee, controlled by Republicans, said they could review many of the same documents sent directly by the Bush library in time for the hearings to begin today.

Republicans said at the end of August that they had received 415,000 pages of documents, of which it had deemed 147,000 to be "committee confidential," meaning they could be viewed by any senator but not publicly disclosed.

Then, late last week, the White House said it would not release an additional 101,921 pages to the committee, so even senators haven't seen them. Finally, hours before the hearing, the White House sent 42,000 pages to the committee with instructions that they be kept confidential by senators who viewed them.

Republicans said that their staff had enough time to review the documents, but Senator Amy Klobuchar, D, said that no one could review 42,000 pages overnight "no matter how much coffee you drink."

There have been significant disclosures in documents that have been made public. For example, most of the documents related to Kavanaugh's work as an associate to Starr have been released. They include a 1998 memo in which Kavanaugh urged that Starr's deputies pose sexually graphic questions to then-President Bill Clinton about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Many of the documents that have been shielded from disclosure come from Kavanaugh's three years as associate White House counsel. Democrats have been particularly interested in whether documents would reveal more about whether Kavanaugh played a role in developing Bush's policy on torture.

In his 2006 confirmation hearing for the federal appeals court, Kavanaugh said that "I was not involved and am not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants."

The following year, the Washington Post reported that Kavanaugh had participated in a discussion in the White House Counsel's Office about how Justice Anthony Kennedy - for whom he had clerked - would view the detainee policy. Durbin and other Democrats have said that they felt misled by Kavanaugh's denial and said they hoped that full disclosure of the documents would reveal more about his role.

Kavanaugh is intimately familiar with the issue of White House documents and judicial nominations. In his role at the counsel's office, he vetted potential nominees and worked on efforts to prevent disclosure of certain documents, citing presidential privilege.

A set of emails, which have been made public and were reviewed by The Post, showed that Kavanaugh and his associates were concerned that whatever they wrote might one day be made public.

Demonstrators protesting against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, wear costumes like those from the TV series The Handmaid's Tale.
Demonstrators protesting against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, wear costumes like those from the TV series The Handmaid's Tale.

The email thread of January 3, 2002, began when Kavanaugh noted that he had been "blasted" for his effort to protect presidential records. That prompted another White House official to say, apparently jokingly, that they were "denying historians and generations of American school children important information about their government."

"Careful," a second White House official responded email that was sent to Kavanaugh. "These e-mails will all be disclosed in 12 years."

"Not if Brett can help it," the first White House official responded.

Today's proceedings brought to the surface years of anger over judicial nominees. Democrats invoked the name of Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2016 to fill the Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late justice Antonin Scalia, and denied a hearing by Senate Republicans.

Even before the protests began inside the hearing room, there were groups of protesters walking the hallways of the Senate Hart building. With the future of abortion rights at stake, dozens of women dressed in crimson robes and white bonnets as characters from the television series, The Handmaid's Tale, stood silently outside the hearing room.

Once the hearing began, one by one, the mostly female protesters in the audience stood to loudly object to Kavanaugh's nomination and urge the senators to "vote no."

"This lifetime appointment will be devastating to women's rights, voting rights, gay rights," shouted one woman.

"An illegitimate president cannot make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court," said another.

The protesters were quickly and quietly pulled out by Capitol Police officers who flanked the back wall of the hearing room.

At least 22 individuals had been arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, according to Capitol Police.