Controversial Trump pick for US Supreme Court faces hearings

WASHINGTON, United States - Senators will hear on Tuesday from President Donald Trump's pick for the US Supreme Court, who pledged to be a neutral "umpire" who favours the law over personal preference.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh's high-profile hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee kick off on Tuesday at 9:30 am (1330 GMT), with Republicans praising him as a principled and exacting jurist and Democrats furious over what they describe as a lack of transparency about his time in George W. Bush's White House.

Kavanaugh, who if confirmed would replace retired swing-vote justice Anthony Kennedy, said in excerpts of his opening remarks that he is a "pro-law judge" who would bring his impartiality to the nation's high court.

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"A good judge must be an umpire -- a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy," he said in the excerpts released by the White House.

"I don't decide cases based on personal or policy preferences."

US Court of Appeals Judge Kavanaugh, 53, is expected to face punishing questioning from Democrats over his endorsement of presidential immunity and his opposition to abortion.

Around two dozen witnesses are lined up to argue for and against confirming Kavanaugh, who could swing the nine-member high court decidedly in conservatives' favor for years to come.

Kavanaugh stressed that if confirmed, he would be "committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution," and would always strive to be "a team player on the Team of Nine."

Democrats have mobilised heavily to prevent his confirmation.

They have been fiercely critical of the Trump administration for not providing sufficient documentation about Kavanaugh's time in Bush's White House, where he may have played key roles in terrorism-related decisions, such as permitting the torture of detainees. 

On Monday night, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer complained that the administration provided senators an additional 42,000 pages of Kavanaugh documents on the evening before the confirmation hearing. 

"This underscores just how absurd this process is. Not a single senator will be able to review these records before tomorrow," Schumer tweeted.

The Judiciary Committee responded, saying "the majority staff has now completed its review of each and every one of these pages."

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, joined what she called a "silent protest" on the Supreme Court steps minutes before the hearing to draw attention to the lack of transparency.

"I've never had a hearing like this, where documents are so difficult to get," she said, pointing to what she said was the 93 percent of documents from Kavanaugh's time as a White House counsel and then staff secretary that have not been provided to the Senate.