- Supreme Court/Fred Schilling via Reuters
- Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court the votes of 50 senators, bringing to a close weeks of bitter partisan fights and protests over the nominee, who faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and doubts about his truthfulness under oath.
- A conservative who served in President George W. Bush’s White House, Kavanaugh will replace the court’s swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, and will likely move the court to the right for decades to come.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court in a narrow 50-48 vote in the Senate on Saturday afternoon, bringing to a close the most divisive high court confirmation battle since the 1990s.
Protesters – many of them women and sexual assault survivors – flooded Capitol Hill on Saturday, continuing weeks of mass protests against a nominee whose alleged history of sexual misconduct transformed a partisan debate over ideology into a cultural battle fueled by the #MeToo movement. Republicans condemned the demonstrators, some of whom interrupted the final vote with shouts as they were dragged out of the chamber, characterizing them as a special interest-funded “mob.”
Kavanaugh was sworn in Saturday evening in a private ceremony, replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s swing vote on critical issues including same-sex marriage, abortion, and campaign finance. A 53-year-old former aide to President George W. Bush who’s spent the last 12 years on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh will cement a conservative majority on the court likely for decades to come.
Trump, who campaigned in 2016 on stacking the Supreme Court with staunch conservatives, celebrated the vote on Saturday, tweeting, “I applaud and congratulate the U.S. Senate for confirming our GREAT NOMINEE, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the United States Supreme Court.”
Democrats quickly expressed their fury as some lawmakers joined the protesters gathered outside the court, already indicating how the party intends to use Kavanaugh’s confirmation to drive an energized base to the polls in November.
“Right, forever vigilant is always stronger than wrong, temporarily victorious,” Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, tweeted shortly after the vote. “May our outrage get us out working.”
After just under two months of protests and bitter partisan battles, Kavanaugh’s confirmation was assured on Friday when the two remaining undecided senators – Susan Collins, a moderate Maine Republican, and Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat – announced they would vote to send the judge to the nation’s highest court.
In a 45-minute address from the Senate floor on Friday, Collins lamented the divisiveness of the process, hoping that it had “finally hit rock bottom.” The senator both defended Kavanaugh’s judicial record and insisted that he should be presumed innocent of misconduct charges until proven guilty.
Manchin announced he would vote with the Republican majority as Collins concluded her floor speech, all but assuring the judge’s confirmation.
In a symbol of the deep division over Kavanaugh, Collins’ closest colleague and the only other remaining Republican centrist in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski, bucked her party and voted against advancing Kavanaugh’s nomination on Friday. The pro-choice Republican remained undecided until the day of the cloture vote, but concluded that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would undermine the public’s confidence in the court.
On Saturday, Murkowski paired her vote with that of Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, who intended to vote “yes” on Kavanaugh but missed the proceedings while he attended his daughter’s wedding. Murkowski asked that her vote instead be marked as “present,” leaving the final outcome unchanged.
- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
A bitter and tumultuous confirmation battle
Kavanaugh’s nomination was protested since the beginning by Democrats and liberal activists who oppose the judge’s conservative record on key issues including abortion, environmental protection, and presidential powers. But the fight escalated dramatically after three women came forward to publicly accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct last month.
In her riveting appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford delivered testimony that came close to derailing Kavanaugh’s confirmation. And Democrats have maintained that the FBI’s investigation into the misconduct claims against Kavanaugh was overly limited by the White House.
Democrats have also accused the nominee of lying under oath, pointing to instances in which the judge appeared to either mislead or make false statements to the Judiciary Committee about a range of issues, including his drinking habits and social life in high school and college and his work in the Bush White House.
Kavanaugh, who denied all of the misconduct allegations, called the attacks on his nomination a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” devised by Democrats in combative and emotional testimony that made many, including even some Republicans, question his temperament and political impartiality.
- Alex Wong/Getty Images
Concerns about public confidence in the court
Experts across the political spectrum worry that Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court will further undermine public confidence in the institution, as the court loses its swing vote and the conservative majority includes two men credibly accused of sexual misconduct.
Alicia Bannon, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, called the likely erosion of trust in the judicial branch “dangerous and damaging” to democracy.
“It’s vitally important that the people who are on the losing side of a case still accept that they have to follow that decision,” Bannon told Business Insider. “It’s been important that you haven’t had a dynamic where on every issue the court was ruling in a 5-4 decision in a conservative direction – you had a legitimate swing justice.”
Both Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan recently voiced concern about the politicization of the high court and the implications for public trust in its authority.
“Part of the court’s strength and part of the court’s legitimacy depends on people not seeing the court in the way that people see the rest of the governing structures of this country now,” Kagan told an audience at Princeton University on Friday.