Utah Senators Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday began a long round of questioning U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh that will continue Thursday.
On the hearing's second day, protests again interrupted proceedings as committee members probed Kavanaugh about his views on abortion, gun control, and how he might rule in cases involving President Donald Trump.
Kavanaugh, a federal judge on the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, repeatedly stressed his independence as a judge and said his loyalty lies with the U.S. Constitution.
"For 12 years I've been deciding cases based on the law and the precedent in each case," Kavanaugh told Hatch, who asked what loyalty Kavanaugh owes the president and the American people.
Hatch, who is retiring after more than four decades in the Senate, has participated in the confirmation of every justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Kavanaugh's hearing will be Hatch's 15th and final Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
In his round of questions, Hatch praised Kavanaugh for hiring and mentoring female law clerks as a D.C. circuit judge, then asked whether the Supreme Court nominee knew about sexual harassment allegations against Ninth Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski, which surfaced last year. Kavanaugh clerked for Kozinski in the early '90s.
"Some of your opponents have suggested that you must have known about these allegations," said Hatch.
Kavanaugh said he knew nothing about the allegations before they came to light last December. "It was a gut punch for me," he said, adding he was "shocked, disappointed, angry."
Kozinski retired from the bench after the allegations surfaced in December.
"The first thought I had was no woman should be subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, ever," Kavanaugh said. "Especially in the judiciary."
Asked whether he knew about or was part of an email list Kozinski reportedly used to send inappropriate materials to friends and law clerks, Kavanaugh said he doesn't "remember anything like that."
Kavanaugh said he rarely saw or spoke with Kozinski, who worked in a Pasadena, Calif. courthouse, while Kavanaugh was based in Washington, D.C.
If confirmed to the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh pledged to continue to "decide cases based on the Constitution, the law, the precedent of the Supreme Court" and "without fear or favor, independently.
"No one is above the law in our constitutional system," Kavanaugh said in response to a question from committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, about whether he would have trouble ruling against the president who appointed him. "Under our system of government, the executive branch is subject to the law."
Committee Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, pressed Kavanaugh about his views on issues Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe in 1992.
"It's an important precedent of the Supreme Court that's been reaffirmed many times," Kavanaugh said, but he stopped short of saying whether the case was correctly decided.
Sen. Mike Lee's questions were more about Kavanaugh's judicial ideologies and how he interprets law.
At one point, Lee asked whether Kavanaugh could choose a favorite Federalist Paper.
"I like a lot of Federalist Papers," Kavanaugh replied with a laugh, before listing several of his favorite articles written by founding fathers Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison.
Kavanaugh singled out papers that discuss the independent role of the judiciary, the presidency, and one which talks about the separation of powers in American government, which Lee called a "greatest hits list."