SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Tuesday he was sorry Judge Brett Kavanaugh is having "to go through some of the nonsense that's about to come your way" during the Senate hearing on his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As Hatch gave his opening statement on the first day of the confirmation hearing for the federal appeals court judge nominated by President Donald Trump, protesters repeatedly interrupted.
"These people are so out of line they shouldn't be in the doggone room," a frustrated Hatch said at one point, earlier asking that a woman he labeled a "loudmouth" be removed because "we shouldn't have to put up with this kind of stuff."
The senator, retiring after 42 years in office, noted in his statement that this was his 15th and final Supreme Court confirmation hearing. He said he's participated in the confirmation of more than half of all federal judges and every current justice.
Hatch said he got to know Kavanaugh well during his first confirmation to the federal bench in 2004 and now views him as one of the nation's most-distinguished judges, hearing more than 1,000 cases and writing more than 300 opinions.
But Democrats, Hatch said, can't admit Kavanaugh is a good judge and "have to turn the volume up to 11 and try to paint you as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Anyone who actually knows you knows that's ridiculous."
Hatch assured Kavanaugh that the public, too, "will see soon enough that your are a smart, decent, normal person who just so happens to have been nominated to the highest court in our land."
The confirmation process, expected to last through the week, got off to a chaotic start with Democratic senators attempting to block the proceedings because the White House continues to withhold documents about Kavanaugh.
Majority Republicans pushed on, but protesters interrupted throughout the morning, shouting their opposition to Kavanaugh one by one before police removed them from the hearing room.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that while senators have to ask hard questions of a Supreme Court nominee, they should not ask how he or she would rule on a specific case.
Lee said history shows that the committee has created a "norm in which members demand that nominees speak about specific cases in return for favorable treatment" — something most have resisted.
That approach "might do a disservice to the country," Lee said, creating the expectation that judges are supposed to be outcome-oriented, which "undermines the very legitimacy of the courts themselves."
U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart, who has served on the federal bench in Utah since 1999, called the hearing "most uncomfortable" to watch because it reinforces his concern that the Supreme Court has become too political and too powerful.
"The Supreme Court has become such a supreme power in this country," Stewart told KSL Newsradio Thursday, calling the high court "a key determiner of how we live in America."
Stewart, a chief of staff to former Gov. Mike Leavitt, said his judicial confirmation drew a lot of attention and put a lot of pressure on him as a Republican appointee by then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. But it went well, he said, crediting Hatch.
The success of today's Supreme Court nominees is "purely a matter of who controls the Senate," Stewart said, with "tremendous political pressure being brought on both sides of the aisle" and million of dollars spent by interest groups.
The Democrat running for the Senate seat now held by Hatch, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, said she has not yet decided how she would vote on Kavanaugh if she had the opportunity.
"As a current elected official, on any given issue I take in all of the available information prior to making a decision. I believe the Senate hearings to be an important part of the process," Wilson said.
She said she objects "to our delegation's immediate and lock-step support" of Kavanaugh, the president's choice for what is widely seen as the deciding vote on the nine-member court split between liberals and conservatives.
A spokeswoman for Mitt Romney, the Republican in the Senate race, referred reporters to a July tweet by the former 2012 GOP presidential nominee about Kavanaugh.
"Esteemed by his colleagues, faithful to the Constitution, a record of thoughtful decisions, and already confirmed for the DC Circuit. Brett Kavanaugh has the right stuff," Romney tweeted after Trump announced his pick.