President Trump congratulates ‘great nominee’ Brett Kavanaugh

Senate backs Trump nominee after vote is interrupted by screaming protesters

Brett Kavanaugh has been sworn in as a justice of the US Supreme Court in a major political victory for President Donald Trump.

Judge Kavanaugh (53), who has been embroiled in controversy since sexual assault allegations surfaced, was endorsed by the 100-member Senate on Saturday. Mr Kavanaugh denies all allegations of sexual misconduct.

His confirmation brings to a close one of the most divisive confirmation battles in recent history.

As Mr Kavanaugh was sworn in at a private ceremony in the Supreme Court - along with his wife, two children and parents- on Saturday evening, protesters demonstrated on the steps of the court, just metres away from the US senate.


His confirmation is likely is tip the balance of the court to the right for decades to come.

Mr Trump has now appointed two of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices - Neil Gorsuch, who he nominated last year to replace Antonin Scalia, and Mr Kavanaugh. Both justices share similar backgrounds, having both attended Georgetown Prep, a private Catholic school in the suburbs of Washington.

Mr Kavanaugh’s appointment could be particularly significant for future rulings as he replaces Anthony Kennedy who was often a swing vote on the court. Although nominated by a Republican president, Justice Kennedy often sided with more liberal members of the court on key issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Earlier in the day, senators voted by 50 to 48 to confirm Mr Trump’s nominee to fill the seat left by Mr Kennedy who retired this summer.

Mr Trump tweeted: "I applaud and congratulate the US Senate for confirming our GREAT NOMINEE, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the United States Supreme Court. Later today, I will sign his Commission of Appointment, and he will be officially sworn in. Very exciting!"

As Mr Kavanaugh made his way by motorcade to the Supreme Court to be confirmed, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted her congratulations:

“Instead of a 6-3 liberal Supreme Court under Hillary Clinton, we now have a 5-4 conservative Supreme Court under President Donald Trump, cementing a tremendous legacy for the President and a better future for America.”

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on his way to a rally in Kansas, shortly after the confirmation vote, Mr Trump said he was “100 per cent sure” that Ms Blasey Ford had named the wrong person when she accused Mr Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

‘Outstanding person’

“There is no one with a squeaky clean past like Brett Kavanaugh. He is an outstanding person and I’m very honored to have chosen him,” he said. “We’re very honored that he was able to withstand this horrible, horrible attack by the Democrats.”

Mr Kavanaugh's path to the court was assured on Friday after the Senate passed a procedural vote and several key Republicans, including senator Susan Collins, indicated they would endorse him.

Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who faces a tough fight for re-election in the congressional elections on November 6th, was the only Democrat to vote for Mr Kavanaugh.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the only Republican not to support Mr Trump's nominee. However, she voted "present" in the chamber, allowing Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, to attend his daughter's wedding instead of the vote.

The vote took place against the backdrop of fierce protests in Washington, DC, both outside and inside the Senate. As senators voted, screaming demonstrators were dragged out of the chamber by police.

Bitter battle

Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation followed a bitter partisan battle over his nomination that continued in the Senate chamber right up to the vote.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer warned his colleagues that they were “about to elevate a nominee who doesn’t belong on the nation’s highest bench”.

Lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who testified under oath that Mr Kavanaugh assaulted her when he was 17, were present in the Senate chamber when the vote took place.

Ms Ford accused Mr Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students in a wealthy suburb of Washington in 1982.

Two other women then accused him in the media of sexual misconduct in the 1980s. Mr Kavanaugh fought back hard, denying the accusations in angry and tearful testimony before the Senate judiciary committee that was viewed live on television by about 20 million people. The allegations also prompted a last-minute FBI inquiry into the judge’s conduct.

Mr Trump stood by Mr Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge with a history of advancing Republican causes, and this week the president mocked Ms Ford’s account of what she says was a drunken attack on her by Mr Kavanaugh.

Amid tighter-than-usual security, hundreds of protesters against Mr Kavanaugh assembled on the grounds of the Capitol and at the supreme court on Saturday. They chanted “Vote them out! Vote them out!” and carried signs, one of which said: “I am a survivor, not a troublemaker!”

A townhouse near the Washington residence of Ms Collins flew the flag of her home state Maine upside down to protest her backing of Mr Kavanaugh.

Even before the sexual assault charges surfaced, Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate fought hard to stop Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation, saying his conservative judicial philosophy could result in rolling back abortion rights, gay rights and protections for immigrants.

They also challenged the veracity of some of his judiciary committee testimony.

Additional reporting – Reuters

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent