Kavanaugh Confirmed to Supreme Court After Partisan Fight
(Bloomberg) -- Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court after one of the most ferocious confirmation battles in history, overcoming allegations of school-age sexual assault and claims by Democrats that he was dishonest in Senate hearings.
The 50-48 vote Saturday -- the closest margin for a confirmed justice in more than 130 years -- is a resounding victory for President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose top mission has been to engineer a rightward turn in the federal judiciary, especially the nation’s highest court. The vote, at the height of the “Me Too” movement, brought throngs of demonstrators supporting and opposing Kavanaugh to the Capitol and may affect the November election for control of Congress.
“We have a great new Supreme Court justice and he’s going to be there for many years,” Trump told reporters as he arrived in Topeka, Kansas, to hold a campaign rally Saturday evening.
Kavanaugh was sworn in later Saturday by Chief Justice John Roberts and retired Justice Anthony Kennedy -- whom Kavanaugh will replace -- at a private ceremony in the justices’ conference room, the court said. Also attending were Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan. A formal investiture ceremony will be held in the courtroom at a later date, the court said.
Vice President Mike Pence took the Senate presiding officer’s chair for the vote, which proceeded as shouting protesters were removed from the visitors’ gallery.
“I always thought landslides were pretty boring anyway,” McConnell told reporters after the vote. Regarding the bitter fight over the nomination, he said, “The Senate and the country will get past this.”
Cement a Majority
Republicans are looking for Kavanaugh, 53, to cement a conservative majority on the court, while Democrats say they’re alarmed he could provide the fifth vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
He also could provide the decisive vote to outlaw affirmative action programs and slash environmental regulations, and he might be called on to rule on issues stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump, the man who chose him for the court.
Shortly before the vote, McConnell described Kavanaugh in a Senate floor speech as a judicial “superstar” with “sterling character.”
“Judge Brett Kavanaugh is among the very best our nation has to offer,” McConnell said. “He will serve with distinction on our highest court.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Kavanaugh an “extreme partisan” chosen by Trump and fellow conservatives to overturn Roe and cut back Obamacare. “He gave one of the bitterest, most partisan testimonies ever presented by a nominee,” said Schumer of New York.
Kavanaugh’s nomination was almost derailed three weeks ago when Christine Blasey Ford accused him of trying to rape her at a 1982 house party when they were in high school. Ford and Kavanaugh testified at an extraordinary Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27 where she described the alleged assault, and he angrily and tearfully denied it.
The Senate delayed voting on confirmation for a week to allow an FBI investigation that Republicans said didn’t corroborate any wrongdoing by Kavanaugh. Democrats said the probe was a whitewash and that agents didn’t interview witnesses who could back up the claims.
McConnell said in an interview earlier Saturday that Senate Republicans, not the White House, set the scope of the FBI probe, including the decision not to interview Kavanaugh or Ford.
Scope of Probe
“The White House took grief for setting the scope, but we gave them the scope,” said McConnell of Kentucky.
Putting Kavanaugh on the court gives Republicans a victory before the Nov. 6 election, in which Democrats have a chance to win control of the House and are making a longer shot bid for a Senate majority. Democrats also are campaigning on the fight over Kavanaugh, saying Republicans rushed the confirmation without allowing a broader FBI investigation.
Three previously undecided senators, Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, sealed the victory for Kavanaugh by announcing their support on Friday.
Collins said she thought Kavanaugh might have to withdraw after Ford’s testimony, but his forceful denial and anguish in response -- and lack of corroboration for the allegations -- led her to conclude that fairness required the judge’s confirmation.
Unfair to Disqualify
“I was certainly undecided, and after hearing Christine Ford’s very compelling and painful testimony, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, he perhaps needs to withdraw,”’ Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Collins said she believes Ford was assaulted and is “a survivor.” But that doesn’t mean Kavanaugh was the assailant, and it would be unfair to disqualify him without evidence, she said. Collins, who supports abortion rights, said in a Senate floor speech Friday that Kavanaugh had assured her that he viewed Roe and the 1992 Casey ruling that reaffirmed it to be important precedents.
During the Senate Judiciary hearing, Ford testified that Kavanaugh held her down on a bed, tried to disrobe her and covered her mouth to keep her from screaming. She described “uproarious laughter” by Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, a friend of his who has said he doesn’t recall such an incident.
Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a Judiciary Committee member, disputed suggestions by Collins and other Republicans that there was no corroboration, citing a lie-detector test Ford took and saying witnesses merely said they couldn’t recall the party.
“That is hardly what I would call ‘exoneration,”’ Hirono said on CNN.
The bitter fight brought an outpouring from women on social media who recounted being sexually assaulted and being afraid to tell anyone about it at the time. At the Senate hearing, the nominee harshly criticized Democrats, arguing with them and asking some about their drinking habits.
“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside, left-wing opposition groups,” Kavanaugh told the committee.
The hearing devolved into a partisan shouting match where Kavanaugh at one point accused a senator of asking him a “phony question.” Democrats said he was dishonest in answering questions about references in his high school yearbook that they said bragged of heavy drinking and disrespect for girls. His angry responses showed partisanship and a lack of judicial temperament needed for the court, Democrats said.
McConnell said in the interview that he spoke with Trump twice on the day of the hearing, and “I know we never discussed giving up.” The majority leader said he never thought Kavanaugh should withdraw his name, although at times he “wasn’t totally certain” he would win confirmation.
The FBI interviewed nine people related to allegations from Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party when they were Yale University students. Lawyers for both women said the FBI didn’t interview people who could have corroborated their accounts.
After earlier calling Ford’s claim “very credible,” the Trump mocked her testimony at a rally Tuesday in Southaven, Mississippi. Referring to a third accuser against the nominee, Julie Swetnick, Trump said: “This woman had no clue what was going on, and yet she made the most horrible charges.”
Kavanaugh served Kennedy as a law clerk in 1993-94. He is Trump’s second high court appointee after Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court last year after Republicans refused to vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016.
Democrats sought to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation since soon after Trump nominated him in July. They said he would tilt the court too far to the right. The administration refused to release more than 100,000 pages of documents related to Kavanaugh’s work in President George W. Bush’s White House. Kavanaugh also worked on the independent counsel investigation that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the late 1990s.
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