Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Supreme Court associate justice nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg)

Trump Apologizes to Kavanaugh And Declares Him ‘Proven Innocent'

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump apologized to Brett Kavanaugh for the bitter battle over his confirmation to the Supreme Court and declared him “innocent” of the sexual assault allegations that nearly derailed his nomination.

“On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain you have been forced to endure,” Trump said Monday during a ceremonial swearing-in at the White House. “You, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.”

Kavanaugh, acknowledging the “contentious and emotional” fight over his confirmation, said he had “no bitterness” and promised to “always be a team player on the team of nine.”

Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh once clerked for and whose place he has taken on the court, administered the oath of office. Kavanaugh will hear his first cases on Tuesday, when the court convenes at 10 a.m.

Kavanaugh’s installation cements the strongest conservative majority on the court since the New Deal, delivering on a decades-long ambition of the American right. It comes just in time to motivate evangelicals and social conservatives to turn out to vote in November elections that will determine control of Congress.

His ascent to the court was sealed by a 50-48 Senate vote on Saturday. Trump has spent the past few days relishing Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which appeared in doubt as recently as last week after three women made sexual assault allegations against the nominee.

During a speech in Florida earlier Monday, Trump denounced the accusations against Kavanaugh as “a hoax” perpetrated “by people that are evil.”

The president’s rendering of a verdict on the sexual assault allegations risks further antagonizing political opponents at a moment that the “Me Too” movement demands accountability for sexual misconduct.

His opponent in the 2016 presidential race, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, told CNN Tuesday that the ceremonial swearing amounted to “a political rally,” adding that "it further undermined the image and integrity of the court.”

“That troubles me greatly,” Clinton said. “It saddens me because our judicial system has been viewed as one of the main pillars of our constitutional government. I don’t know how people are going to react to it. Given our divides, it will pretty much fall predictably between those who are for and those who are against.”

Trump’s attempt to frame his apology to Kavanaugh as coming on behalf of the entire nation also overlooks public antipathy toward the nominee. Americans opposed his confirmation 51 percent to 41 percent, according to a CNN poll conducted Oct. 4-7.

More people believed California college professor Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of trying to rape her when they were both high school students, and other women who accused him of misconduct than believed Kavanaugh’s denials, according to the CNN poll. Fifty-two percent said they believed the women versus 38 percent who said found Kavanaugh most credible.

Other major polls reflected similar sentiment.

Protesters crowded hallways in the Capitol before Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote and pounded on the Supreme Court doors afterward. Some Democrats have talked of impeaching Kavanaugh, though the process is difficult with a two-thirds Senate majority required to remove a federal judge.

Kavanaugh will be closely scrutinized from his first day on the bench. The court will be hearing arguments Tuesday in two previously little-noticed cases involving the Armed Career Criminal Act, a federal law that imposes heightened penalties on people who repeatedly commit serious crimes.

All eight of the Supreme Court’s other justices attended the White House ceremony, a show of collegiality by members of an ideologically divided court. Kavanaugh was joined at the ceremony by his wife and two daughters.

“On the Supreme Court, I will seek to be a force for civility and unity,” Kavanaugh said.

The White House event was purely ceremonial. Kavanaugh took the two required oaths privately at the court on Saturday, letting him begin work right away. He had already hired four law clerks, all women.

President Barack Obama’s two Supreme Court appointees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, didn’t participate in oath ceremonies at the White House. They took their oaths at the court in ceremonies that were televised live.

In 2009 when Sotomayor was sworn in, administration officials said Obama wanted to forgo a White House oath as a sign of the new justice’s independence. The president later hosted a reception at the White House for Sotomayor, as he did a year later with Kagan.

Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, also took part in a White House oath ceremony.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.