In the narrowest confirmation since 1881, the Senate on Saturday voted 50-48 to confirm judge Brett Kavanaugh as an associate justice on the US Supreme Court.
Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana was absent because he was attending his daughter’s wedding. That prompted Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to vote “present,” in a practice called “pairing” between senators. Murkowski was opposed to sending Kavanaugh to the high court, but withdrew her “no” vote as part of the pairing practice so that Daines would not have to be in the chamber.
The vote, presided over by Vice President Mike Pence, was interrupted several times by protesters.
As the senators voted, protesters in the Senate gallery screamed, “I do not consent!” and “Shame!”
Analysts said Kavanaugh’s presence would give conservatives a 5-4 majority on the court. The lifetime appointment means the 53-year old Kavanaugh’s may serve on the highest court for decades. He replaces retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. The nine-member court is currently operating with only eight justices.
Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct by a woman who said he assaulted her at a home in suburban Washington when they were teenagers in the 1980s. He denied the accusation made by professor Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee more than a week ago.
One of the women who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during his time at Yale, Deborah Ramirez, said in a statement Saturday that the senators discussing the impending vote brought her back to the moment of the alleged misconduct.
“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 U.S. senators who are deliberately ignoring his behavior,” Ramirez said. “This is how victims are isolated and silenced.”
Responding to the vote, President Donald Trump tweeted, “I applaud and congratulate the US Senate for confirming our GREAT NOMINEE, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the United States Supreme Court.”
Trump was aboard Air Force One, traveling to a campaign rally in Kansas, as the Senate voted on an extraordinarily fraught nomination that sparked angry protests, nail-biting votes and a national reckoning about sexual assault allegations and who should be believed.
Trump invited reporters traveling with him to watch the final vote in his private office, delivering a thumbs up from his desk as the confirmation was made official.
“Very, very good,” Trump said. “Very happy about it. Great decision. I very much appreciate those 50 great votes and I think he’s going to go down as a totally brilliant Supreme Court Justice for many years.”
Trump, throughout the day, insisted Kavanaugh would not be tainted by the sexual assault allegations from Christine Blasey Ford and others that nearly tanked his nomination. Kavanaugh vigorously asserted his innocence.
“When these allegations first surfaced,” a reporter asked the president, “you said there shouldn’t even be a little doubt. Are you 100 percent certain …” Trump interrupted and began speaking as the question continued, “ … that Ford named the wrong person?”
“I’m 100 percent. I’m 100 percent. I have no doubt,” Trump said.
Trump went on to say: “One of the reasons I chose him is because there’s nobody with a squeaky-clean past like Brett Kavanaugh because he is an outstanding person and I’m very honored to have chosen him.”
Trump continued lashing out at Democrats when he rallied supporters in Topeka, telling them the opposition party conducted a “shameless campaign of political and personal destruction” against Kavanaugh. He said “radical Democrats” have become “an angry, left-wing mob” and “too dangerous and extreme to govern.”
Aboard Air Force One, Trump said Kavanaugh had withstood a “horrible, horrible attack” that “nobody should have to go through.”
And he revealed that he believes a rally speech in which he mocked Christine Blasey Ford’s Senate testimony had been turning point for the nomination.
“I think that the Mississippi speech had great impact,” he said, calling it “a very important thing.”
Prior to the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News that he did not believe the “nasty” confirmation process would cause irreparable damage to future Supreme Court nominations.
“Nothing has been irreparably damaged,” McConnell told the news channel, adding that, “the good news is, the mob didn’t win.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for his part, had encouraged voting against Kavanaugh.
“If you believe Dr. Ford, and other brave women who came forward, and you want to vindicate their sacrifice, vote,” he said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, said the Kavanaugh confirmation “shifts the court far to the right, putting women’s reproductive rights, civil rights, environmental protections, workers’ rights, the ability to implement gun safety rules and the ability to hold presidents accountable at risk for a generation.”
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Sanders reacted with jubilation.
“Congratulations Judge Kavanaugh!” Sanders tweeted. “Instead of a 6-3 liberal Supreme Court under Hillary Clinton, we now have a 5-4 conservative Supreme Court under President @realDonaldTrump, cementing a tremendous legacy for the President and a better future for America.”