Just three days after he was narrowly confirmed to the US Supreme Court in a 50-48 mostly party line vote despite facing late blooming allegations of sexual assault, Justice Brett Kavanaugh took his seat on the bench on the morning of Oct. 9, solidifying a perceived 5-4 conservative majority for years to come.
Kavanaugh, 53, joined the eight other justices to hear arguments in cases involving a federal criminal sentencing law, bringing the nine-member court back up to full strength after the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom Kavanaugh had previously clerked, in July.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation gave Republican President Donald Trump a major victory, with his second lifetime appointee to the nation’s highest judicial body. Justice Neil Gorsuch had joined the court last year, replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation was also hailed as a victory for the gun rights movement. His confirmation had been supported by the National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Gun Owners of America.
His confirmation battle in a bitterly divided US Senate was one of the most contentious in history. The battle lines between Republicans and Democrats were drawn immediately after he was nominated by President Trump. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) had vowed to do everything in his power to defeat the nominee, who was portrayed as pro-Second Amendment, anti-abortion and pro-government. In the end, the Judiciary Committee hearings that preceded the Senate vote on Saturday Oct. 6 showed a nation divided, mostly along party lines. The hearings were frequently interrupted by raucous demonstrations.
In a way, the partisan hearings were a continuation of the 2016 presidential election, with the Democrats embittered by the loss by Hillary Clinton, who had been considered a shoe-in to become president, still trying to salvage some executive power. Which is not surprising because if Clinton had won the vacancies on the Supreme Court would have been filled by liberal jurists?
Kavanaugh’s elevation to the high court had been considered safe until California university professor Christine Blasey Ford went public with explosive allegations that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in 1982, while they were in high school. Two other women also accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
Kavanaugh denied the allegations and in a blistering partisan attack during a Senate hearing on Sept. 27, accused Democrats of an “orchestrated political hit.”
He wrote later in a newspaper opinion piece that he regretted some of his comments, but critics said it raised questions about whether he would treat all who come before him fairly. Hundreds of law professors and even retired Justice John Paul Stevens, a Republican appointee, said Kavanaugh’s remarks should disqualify him from the job.
Other analysts said the court’s reputation could suffer as it becomes perceived as a political, rather than a legal, institution.
At a White House ceremony on Oct. 8, Kavanaugh sought to put the confirmation battle behind him, saying he was starting his new job without bitterness.
“Although the Senate confirmation process tested me as it has tested others, it did not change me,” he said, according to several news reports.
Kavanaugh moves to the Supreme Court after spending 12 years as a judge on the influential US Court of Appeals in Washington, where he built a conservative judicial record and a reputation for being affable and well-prepared.
Although his reputation was tarnished by the sexual misconduct claims, Kavanaugh said during his confirmation hearings that he had a record of promoting women in the legal profession.
All four of the law clerks Kavanaugh has hired this term are women, which is a first for a Supreme Court justice. After several women’s rights organizations suggested President Donald Trump’s pick for the next Supreme Court justice doesn’t have the support of women, a group of former female clerks came out to defend their former boss.
“I’ll be the first justice in the history of the Supreme Court to have a group of all women law clerks. That is who I am. That is who I was,” Brett Kavanaugh said on Sept. 27, testifying after the emergence of sexual misconduct allegations.
And he is the first Supreme Court justice in history to deliver on that pledge.