Donald Trump’s choice as America’s newest Supreme Court judge was caught on camera refusing to shake hands with the father of a Florida school massacre victim amid a chaotic Senate confirmation hearing.
Chaos engulfed the confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh on Wednesday morning as Democrats complained about Republicans withholding documents regarding the nominee’s past White House service and shouting protesters were arrested in droves.
More than seven hours went by during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing before Mr Kavanaugh, the conservative federal appeals court judge Mr Trump selected for the top US judicial body, got to deliver his opening statement.
With Democratic senators repeatedly interrupting the committee’s Republican chairman Chuck Grassley at the outset of the hearing, the session quickly became a ruckus.
Protesters, mostly women, took turns yelling as senators spoke, shouting: “This is a travesty of justice,” “Our democracy is broken” and “Vote no on Kavanaugh”.
Demonstrators voiced concern about what they saw as the threat posed by Mr Kavanaugh to abortion rights, healthcare access and gun control.
During a pause in proceedings, Mr Kavanaugh was met by Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jame Guttenberg – one of 17 people killed earlier this year in a mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida – but refused to shake his hand.
Mr Guttenberg addressed the situation on social media, saying he tried to introduce himself with his hand extended before Mr Kavanaugh gave him a confused look and walked away.
“I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence” he wrote.
Just walked up to Judge Kavanaugh as morning session ended. Put out my hand to introduce myself as Jaime Guttenberg's dad. He pulled his hand back, turned his back to me and walked away. I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence.
— Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) September 4, 2018
“As soon as I said [my daughter was] ‘murdered in Parkland,’ he just did an immediate turn and went away,” Mr Guttenberg later told CNN. “All he had to do was extend his hand back and say, I’m sorry for your loss, tell me about your daughter.’”
Mr Kavanaugh, who has often criticised 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”.
US Capitol police said 61 protesters were removed from the room and charged with disorderly conduct, along with nine more outside the hearing.
Democrats decried the withholding of documents and sought to have the proceedings adjourned, as Mr Grassley struggled to maintain order.
“This is the first confirmation for a Supreme Court justice I’ve seen, basically, according to mob rule,” Republican Senator John Cornyn said, a characterisation Democrats rejected.
“What we’ve heard is the noise of democracy,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said.
Democratic Senator Cory Booker appealed to Mr 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 Mr Kavanaugh.
“We cannot possibly move forward. We have not had an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing,” Democratic Senator Kamala Harris said.
Mr Grassley deemed the Democrats’ request to halt the hearing “out of order” and accused them of obstruction. Republicans hold a slim Senate majority and can confirm Mr Kavanaugh if they stay united. There were no signs of Republican defections.
Mr Trump blasted the Democrats on Twitter, saying the hearing was “truly a display of how mean, angry and despicable the other side is” and accusing them of “looking to inflict pain and embarrassment” on Mr Kavanaugh.
If confirmed, Mr Kavanaugh, 53, 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 Mr Kavanaugh on abortion, gun rights and presidential power when they get to question him starting on Wednesday in a hearing due to run through Friday.