Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to U.S. Supreme Court
Senators confirmed Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court Saturday in a vote lacking in drama but freighted with meaning, bringing to a close the nastiest confirmation battle in decades.
Republicans linked arms, lead the chamber to a 50-48 vote, and then prepared to face the political maelstrom spawned from the fight.
All but one Democrat voted against confirmation, and every Republican on the floor voted in favor, save Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted “present.” One other Republican missed the vote to attend his daughter’s wedding.
The partisan divide in the Senate mirrored that outside the Capitol, where hundreds of angry liberal protesters rallied, chanting “Shame!” and threatening political payback for those who’d backed the judge.
Beyond the Beltway, though, polls show Republican voters increasingly motivated to turn out to vote this year, eager to defend Judge Kavanaugh and send a message that the anti-Trump resistance has gone too far.
“The lower road is not available to us anymore because there is no lower road than the one we’ve been on,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, recounting the abortion-rights protest coat hangers sent to senators’ offices, the ambush protests and “bribes” offered to senators to vote against the judge.
Despite the acrimony, Judge Kavanaugh had been headed toward a close but easy confirmation until last-minute allegations of a sexual assault at a high school party in 1982. Christine Blasey Ford says a drunk Judge Kavanaugh groped her, tried to strip off her clothes and stifled her cries for help.
Saturday’s vote lost much of its drama the previous afternoon, when Sen. Susan Collins announced her support for Judge Kavanaugh.
In a speech that ran nearly 45 minutes, she took a scalpel to Democrats’ complaints, defended Republicans’ handling of sensitive sexual assault allegations, and blasted outside interest groups for plumbing the “rock bottom” in their desperation to try to defeat Mr. Trump’s pick.
“It is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy,” the Maine Republican warned colleagues.
Immediately after, Sen. Joe Manchin III, the lone Democrat to back Judge Kavanaugh, announced his support, setting the final margin of victory.
He said he still had reservations, but on balance he “found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist.”
His fellow Democrats didn’t see it that way.
They kept the Senate in session around the clock Saturday night and into Sunday morning, delivering speeches objecting to Judge Kavanaugh’s legal philosophy and professing their belief in Ms. Blasey Ford’s allegation.
“Do we value women? Unfortunately, for too many in this chamber, the answer is no,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat.
Ms. Murkowski’s “present” vote was meant to be a gesture of comity.
She had announced her opposition to Judge Kavanaugh Friday, saying she thought he was a “good man,” but that she was fed up with the mess that his confirmation had become. But she agreed to “live pair” her vote with Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, who was back home for his daughter’s wedding and missed the vote.
The move doesn’t affect the final vote tally, which remains at 50-48, but it does allow Ms. Murkowski to go on record as opposed, and Mr. Daines to be on record in favor of the judge.
Ms. Murkowski may, however, be dealing with the fallout of her decision. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took to Twitter to stoke talk of a challenge to her when Mr. Murkowski is next up for reelection in 2022.
The senator, who on Friday morning had given a tough-to-follow reasoning for her opposition, tried to expand on her thoughts in a speech Friday night.
She praised the judge’s sterling legal credentials and said she didn’t fear he would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision nor be hostile to native Alaskans’ rights both concerns that had been raised.
But she said she didn’t like how Judge Kavanaugh handled last week’s hearing, when he indignantly refuted the assault allegations against him and battled with Democratic senators who accused him of lying about everything from the alleged but uncorroborated assault to entries in his high school yearbook.
“I believe that Judge Kavanaugh is a good man. He’s a good man. He’s clearly a learned judge. But in my conscience, because that’s how I have to vote at the end of the day is with my conscience, I could not conclude that he is the right person for the court at this time,” she said.
Republicans had hoped to have Judge Kavanaugh on the high court before the start of October, hoping he would be seated for the beginning of the justices’ new term which began Monday.
But Democrats managed to force several delays, pushing the vote dates back. The court has already heard six cases though the new justice can ask for a rehearing in any of those where the other members are deadlocked in a tie.
Legal analysts have also predicted that with a ninth justice installed, the court may begin to add some more consequential cases to its docket for the current term, which as of now is among the more bland in recent years.
Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination marks the fifth time someone attempted a partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. In each case it has been Democrats leading a filibuster of a Republican president’s pick: once each for William Rhenquist’s 1971 nomination to be associated justice and then his 1986 ascension to chief justice, once for Justice Samuel A. Alito and once for Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, in addition to Judge Kavanaugh.
Each of those has succeeded though the latter two came only after the GOP triggered the “nuclear option” to alter the interpretation of Senate rules and lower the threshold for overcoming a filibuster to just a majority vote.