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Trump's nominee says he 'will keep an open mind in every case' if confirmed to top court

Brett Kavanaugh — the conservative federal appeals court judge picked by U.S. President Donald Trump for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body — finally made his opening remarks after hours of statements from senators from both sides of the aisle.

Democrats push for more documents on Brett Kavanaugh as Republicans praise his record

A protester is removed during a hearing of the Senate judiciary committee on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. Outbursts from protesters happened more than once as the first day of hearings unfolded. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The Senate confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's U.S. Supreme Court pick, descended into chaos on Tuesday, as Democrats protested about Republicans blocking access to documents concerning the nominee's White House work more than a decade ago.

Democratic senators repeatedly interrupted the judiciary committee's Republican chairman Chuck Grassley at the outset of the hearing and dozens of shouting protesters were removed one by one by security personnel.

Some seven hours after the hearing began, Kavanaugh — the conservative federal appeals court judge picked by Trump for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body — finally made his opening remarks.

Kavanaugh, nominated by a president who has sharply criticized the federal judiciary, told the senators that "a judge must be independent, not swayed by public pressure. Our independent judiciary is the crown jewel of our constitutional republic."

"The Supreme Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution," Kavanaugh said. "A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law," he said. "A good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favours no litigant or policy."

In his remarks to the committee, Kavanaugh said if he is confirmed to the top court, he will "keep an open mind in every case. I will do equal right to the poor and to the rich."

Document disagreement

The hearing got off to a rocky start, with Democrats decrying the withholding of the documents and asking to have the proceedings adjourned as Grassley struggled to maintain order.

"This is the first confirmation for a Supreme Court justice I've seen, basically, according to mob rule," Republican Sen. John Cornyn said, a characterization Democrats rejected.

"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 Sen. Dick Durbin said.

News photographers clicked pictures of a smiling Kavanaugh — the conservative federal appeals court judge picked by Trump for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body — as he entered the hearing room along with family members. But 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."

"We cannot possibly move forward. We have not had an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing," Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said. Democratic Sen. 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.

Watch part of Kavanaugh's statement (and see his full statement at the bottom of this story).

Trump's Supreme Court nominee says 'I have given it my all in every case' 1:43

If confirmed, Kavanaugh is expected to move the court, which already had a conservative majority, further to the right. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed a fierce fight to try to block his confirmation. Democrats signalled they would press Kavanaugh on abortion and gun rights, among other issues, when they get to question him on Wednesday.

Grassley ignored the Democrats' request to halt the hearing, saying it was "out of order" and 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.

Hatch grew visibly irritated as protesters interrupted him.

News photographers snap pictures as Kavanaugh shakes hands with committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley at the outset of the committee hearing. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

"I think we ought to have this loudmouth removed. We shouldn't have to put up with this kind of stuff," Hatch said.

Sen. Ted Cruz accused Democrats of "an attempt to relitigate the 2016 election" won by fellow Republican Trump.

As the hearing paused for a lunch break, Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter who was killed in the Parkland, Fla., high school mass shooting in February, tried to talk to Kavanaugh but the nominee turned away. Video of the encounter was shared widely on social media.

"I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence," Guttenberg wrote on Twitter afterward.

White House spokesperson Raj Shah said security intervened before Kavanaugh could shake Guttenberg's hand.

Replacing swing vote

Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27.

Democrats have demanded in vain to see documents relating Kavanaugh's time as staff secretary to Republican former President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2006. That job involved managing paper flow from advisers to Bush.

Republicans also have released some, but not all, of the existing documents concerning Kavanaugh's two prior years as a lawyer in Bush's White House Counsel's Office.

Republicans have said Democrats have more than enough documents to assess Kavanaugh's record, including his 12 years of judicial opinions as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said she thinks the Kavanaugh hearing should be delayed until more documents are made available for review. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Kavanaugh sat, fingers intertwined, quietly staring ahead at the committee members as protesters in the audience screamed while being dragged out of the hearing room. He occasionally jotted notes on paper.

There is a long history of heated fights over U.S. Supreme Court nominations, with anger in both parties. But the Democratic 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 by refusing to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama's nominee to the high court Merrick Garland in 2016, allowing 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.

Vote expected by end of month

Grassley sought to turn the attention to Kavanaugh's qualifications, calling him "one of the most qualified nominees — if not the most qualified nominee — I have seen."

The Senate is likely to vote on confirmation by the end of the month. The court begins its next term in October.

"A good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favours no litigant or policy," Kavanaugh said in written remarks released in advance of the hearing. "I don't decide cases based on personal or policy preferences."

The hearing gave Democrats a chance to make their case against Kavanaugh ahead of November's congressional elections in which they are seeking to seize control of Congress from Republicans.

Liberals are concerned Kavanaugh could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Kennedy was a solid conservative but sided with the court's liberals on some issues, including abortion and gay rights.

Kavanaugh also is likely to be questioned by senators about his views on investigating sitting presidents and the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump's 2016 campaign.

"I find it difficult to imagine that your views on this subject escaped the attention of President Trump, who seems increasingly fixated on his own ballooning legal jeopardy," Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy said.

Watch Brett Kavanaugh's opening statement.

Democrats and Republican sparred over the Trump nominee today, questions begin tomorrow 16:10

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News