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Nation & World

Kavanaugh sworn in as new Supreme Court justice

Narrow vote cements conservative court but tarnishes image

Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in during a private ceremony Saturday as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Chief Justice John Roberts as Kavanaugh’s wife, Ashley, holds the family Bible and his daughters, Liza and Margaret, look on. Kavanaugh is expected to be on the bench Tuesday when the court hears its next case. (Photo released by U.S. Supreme Court)
Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in during a private ceremony Saturday as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Chief Justice John Roberts as Kavanaugh’s wife, Ashley, holds the family Bible and his daughters, Liza and Margaret, look on. Kavanaugh is expected to be on the bench Tuesday when the court hears its next case. (Photo released by U.S. Supreme Court)
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WASHINGTON — A freshly sworn-in Brett Kavanaugh will join the U.S. Supreme Court immediately after senators affirmed his appointment Saturday by a two-vote margin, the closest confirmation for a justice in over a century.

The tumultuous process caps President Donald Trump’s extraordinary reshaping of the federal judiciary into a conservative mold for a generation or more. This is his second successful pick for the top court, and his nominees for federal circuit and appeals judges have been confirmed at a faster clip than of any recent predecessor at this point in their terms.

Yet the acrimony surrounding Kavanaugh, 53, since Trump nominated him July 9 further divided the nation, and now threatens to stain the public’s perception of the high court as it takes on some of the country’s most divisive issues including gay rights, immigration, abortion and presidential powers.

Trump, who watched Saturday’s Senate vote aboard Air Force One, told reporters that Kavanaugh is “going to go down as a totally brilliant Supreme Court justice for many years.”

The president praised Kavanaugh’s temperament and judicial service and said that “we’re honored that he was able to withstand these horrible, horrible attacks by the Democrats.”

Kavanaugh’s nomination became an intense personal and political drama when California professor Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her in the upstairs bedroom of a home in a wealthy suburb of Washington in 1982, when they were high school students.

Two other women additionally accused him in the media of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh fought back against the accusations, denying them in angry and tearful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Following the hearing that included testimony from both Ford and Kavanaugh, the confirmation vote was delayed a week to allow the FBI to conduct a limited investigation into the allegations of Ford and another accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who asserted Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while they were in college.

Republicans said the FBI report, which has not been made public, showed no corroboration of the allegations and exonerated Kavanaugh. Democrats argued it was too limited in scope to be enlightening.

Still, Republicans mostly have been careful not to say they disbelieve Ford’s assertion, but to assert this is a case of mistaken identity.

Trump said Saturday, for example, he was “100 percent” certain that Ford had named the wrong attacker.

In statements distributed Saturday to the news media, neither of Iowa’s senators — Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both Republicans who supported Kavanaugh — mentioned Ford.

Ernst lauded Kavanaugh as a “highly-qualified justice committed to the rule of law and the United States Constitution.”

Grassley, who chaired the Judiciary Committee that oversaw the confirmation, on the Senate floor cited Kavanaugh’s “extraordinary record as a judge and citizen” and decried a Democratic “character assassination” he called “beyond the pale.”

The confirmation battle is certain to influence next month’s midterm elections, pitting energized female voters angered by the treatment of Kavanaugh’s accusers against conservatives who see him as a man wrongly accused.

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In an interview with the Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the opposition to Kavanaugh a “great political gift” to the GOP right before the elections, where control of the House and Senate are on the line.

Trump is holding rallies and stumping for Republicans facing tight Congressional races. He is set to appear Tuesday in Council Bluffs where he will campaign for Iowa 3rd House District Rep. David Young.

Saturday’s confirmation vote broke largely along party lines, with one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, supporting Kavanaugh, and one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, opposing his nomination.

The margin is the tightest in 137 years, when the Senate confirmed Stanley Matthews — a nominee of President James Garfield — by a one-vote margin in 1881.

Before Saturday’s vote, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., warned that his colleagues were “about to elevate a nominee who doesn’t belong on the nation’s highest bench.”

“To Americans, to so many millions who are outraged by what happened here, there’s one answer: Vote,” he said.

In a new statement online, Ford said she believed and still believes “that it was my civic duty to come forward, but this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, much harder even than I thought it would be.”

On Saturday, Ramirez issued a statement saying that witnesses who could have corroborated her allegations were not interviewed by the FBI.

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“Thirty-five years ago, the other students in the room chose to laugh and look the other way as sexual violence was perpetrated on me by Brett Kavanaugh,” she said.

“As I watch many of the Senators speak and vote on the floor of the Senate I feel like I’m right back at Yale where half the room is laughing and looking the other way. Only this time, instead of drunk college kids, it is US Senators who are deliberately ignoring his behavior.”

In a news release, the Supreme Court announced that Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — whose seat Kavanaugh fills — would administer the oaths of office Saturday so Kavanaugh “can begin to participate in the work of the Court immediately.”

Reuters, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times contributed.

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