WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will begin on Sept. 4, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced in a statement on Friday.
Opening statements by committee members will take place on Sept. 4, and the questioning of Kavanaugh will start the following day, the committee statement said. The hearings are expected to last three or four days.
Republican President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, on July 9 to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Before he can assume the lifetime job on the nine-member court, the Republican-controlled Senate must vote to confirm him.
"He's a mainstream judge. He has a record of judicial independence and applying the law as it is written," Grassley said in a statement, noting that Kavanaugh has met with dozens of senators.
"With the Senate already reviewing more documents than for any other Supreme Court nominee in history, Chairman Grassley has lived up to his promise to lead an open, transparent and fair process," White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a separate statement.
But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who has promised to fight Kavanaugh's nomination, said in a statement that Republicans were in a "mad rush" to hold hearings after deciding to block nearly all of Kavanaugh's records from public release.
Democrats are seeking documents from Kavanaugh's service from 2001 to 2003 as a White House lawyer under Republican former President George W. Bush. Earlier this week, several Democratic senators filed requests under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act to try and compel the government to release the records.
Schumer said on Friday that Republicans were only planning to release a small portion of documents that would be "cherry-picked by a Republican operative" currently working for the former president Bush.
Kavanaugh has amassed a solidly conservative judicial record as an appeals court judge for 12 years. His confirmation will require a simple majority in the 100-seat Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 edge over Democrats and independents.
If the Republicans stick together, they can get Kavanaugh confirmed, but that could be a challenge, given the divisive issues swirling around the conservative nominee, including abortion, gay rights, healthcare and tariffs.
Conservatives also hope to pressure some Democrats into voting for Kavanaugh, especially those who are up for re-election this year and come from states that voted for Trump in 2016, like Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. All three voted last year for Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell Editing by Jonathan Oatis)