WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A Senate committee on Friday (Sept 7) held the final day of its hearing on President Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh, with the conservative US appeals court judge appearing to be on course to secure confirmation despite Democratic opposition.
"I think he made a very compelling case that he is one of the most qualified nominees, if not the most qualified, that we've seen for the Supreme Court of the United States, and I think I've seen 15 of them," said Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who has served in the Senate since 1981.
Kavanaugh completed two days of lengthy questioning by senators on Thursday night, keeping his composure under intense questioning by Democrats and avoiding any stumbles that could have tripped up his confirmation.
Trump's fellow Republicans control the Senate by a narrow margin. With no sign of any Republicans planning to vote against Kavanaugh, he seemed to be well positioned to win confirmation despite Democratic efforts to block him.
In its fourth day of the hearing, the committee on Friday heard from outside witnesses testifying for and against the nomination, with protesters again interrupting the proceedings in opposition to Kavanaugh.
Among those testifying were two representatives of the American Bar Association, the leading US professional group for lawyers, who said a panel that rates judicial nominees gave Kavanaugh a "well qualified" rating.
"We gave him the highest rating possible," said Paul Moxley, head of the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
After the Judiciary Committee votes on the nomination in the coming weeks, a final Senate vote is expected later in the month. Barring unforeseen developments, Kavanaugh could join the eight other justices on the bench around the time of the Oct 1 start of the Supreme Court's new term.
Trump picked Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement in June. Kavanaugh is likely to push the conservative-leaning court further to the right, if confirmed.
During his gruelling testimony, Kavanaugh maintained a genial demeanor, blunting some of the most aggressive questioning from Democrats seeking to unsettle him. He trod a careful line when it came to Trump. He refused to be drawn into political controversies and avoided comment on matters such as whether a president can pardon himself or must respond to a subpoena or whether he would recuse himself from cases involving Trump.
In refusing to engage on Trump, Kavanaugh declined even to condemn the president's persistent criticisms of the federal judiciary.
The president's first appointee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, last year told senators Trump's remarks on the judiciary were "disheartening" and "demoralising." The Washington Post reported in December that Gorsuch's comments had angered Trump and that he had privately considered yanking the nomination.
Asked by Democratic Senator Cory Booker on Wednesday whether he was picked because of an expectation of loyalty to Trump, Kavanaugh responded, "My only loyalty is to the Constitution. I'm an independent judge."
Kavanaugh also refused to say whether he had "the greatest respect" for Trump, a phrase Booker said the nominee had used when describing Republican former president George W. Bush, for whom he worked as a White House aide more than a decade ago before Bush appointed him as a judge.
On divisive issues that could reach the court, such as abortion and gun rights, Kavanaugh declined to offer personal views, restricting himself to reciting Supreme Court precedent.
Kavanaugh signalled respect for the landmark 1973 Roe versus Wade Supreme Court ruling legalising abortion nationwide, calling it an important legal precedent that had been reaffirmed by the justices over the decades.