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Hundreds arrested in multi-day protests of U.S. Supreme Court nominee

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing in the Senate this week was frequently disrupted as protesters were removed from the hearing room by police, with more than 200 people arrested.

Protesters wearing black veils leave the Hart Senate Office Building on the fourth day of Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

In an unusually intense episode of civil disobedience on Capitol Hill, the four-day Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was targeted for “creative resistance” by liberal activist groups, said Linda Sarsour, Women’s March board member.

“This is a travesty of justice! Adjourn the hearing!” Sarsour, 38, yelled on Tuesday morning as she was the first to be taken out of the hearing room by police officers.

Minutes later, three more women - the activists were nearly all women - were removed as they shouted “Vote no on Kavanaugh!” and “My daughter has the right to choose!”

Fears that Kavanaugh, if confirmed to the court by the Senate, could open the door to scaling back abortion access, were a key focus at the hearing.

Sarsour told Reuters that her group’s members accounted for 209 of the 212 arrests made Tuesday through Thursday, including nearly all of the 177 arrests within the hearing room. The majority of those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct, paid a $35 fine and released.

Women’s March grew from a January 2017 demonstration that drew more than 500,000 people to Washington to oppose the Donald Trump’s inauguration to the U.S. presidency.

Sarsour said the arrests during the hearing showed the “level of dissent” over Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh, a conservative judge, for a lifetime Supreme Court seat.

The activists were trained in nonviolent civil disobedience and got legal support. “We are not engaging in some sort of charade; we believe this is a matter of life and death,” Sarsour said.

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Women’s March organised the protests with the Center for Popular Democracy, a left-learning nonprofit, and We Demand Justice, a group formed to oppose Trump’s judicial nominations.

Congress holds hundreds of hearings every year that are typically staid proceedings. Sometimes though, they attract noisy demonstrations.

At the Kavanaugh sessions, the disruptions began several minutes after Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley gavelled the hearing open on Tuesday.

Each day, members of the public arrived by 7 a.m. to queue up for hearing tickets. They then waited in line for 20 to 30 minutes within the hearing room. One after another, activists stood to protest Kavanaugh’s positions on healthcare, abortion, gun rights or the proceeding itself, interrupting lines of questioning and irritating some Republican committee members.

“I don’t know that the committee should have to put up with the type of insolence,” Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican committee member, said on Tuesday morning.

“I think we ought to have this loudmouth removed,” he added as another activist interrupted the hearing.

Carla Beddard, 34, was one of 15 women who silently walked the halls outside Kavanaugh’s hearing dressed in the red cloaks and white bonnets worn by persecuted women in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian novel and television series.

Beddard, a graduate student, said that she was drawn to protest Kavanaugh’s nomination due to his stance on Roe v. Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion nationwide.

“The fact we could be adding a justice to the court that has indicated he’s not too sure terrified me,” Beddard said.

Kavanaugh testified this week that Roe v. Wade is Supreme Court precedent but declined to say whether he believed the case was correctly decided.

On Wednesday, Beddard and two other “handmaids” removed their costumes to go into the hearing room. She stood up and raised her hands, where she had written “We Dissent.” She was one of 73 arrested that day.

Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman