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Brett Kavanaugh sworn in as Supreme Court justice after vote marked by protests

October 7, 2018

WASHINGTON — As Sen. Deb Fischer walked off the Senate floor Saturday, she paused to peer out a window toward the Supreme Court and the demonstrators gathered there to protest Brett Kavanaugh.

The Nebraska Republican had just delivered her speech supporting Kavanaugh for the highest court in the land, praising him as one of the nation’s most thoughtful jurists.

“I am confident that Judge Kavanaugh will be an outstanding Supreme Court justice,” Fischer said on the floor. “He will serve the American people with distinction.”

All four Republican senators from Nebraska and Iowa backed Kavanaugh, who was officially confirmed 50-48 and sworn in a short time later.

Senators stood one after another to cast their votes, the ayes punctuated by demonstrators screaming “shame” and “I do not consent” from the galleries as police officers yanked them from the chamber.

Saturday’s vote represented the conclusion of an epic confirmation battle that riveted a divided nation and sparked intense discussions around how to approach allegations of sexual assault.

Kavanaugh’s nomination to replace retiring Anthony Kennedy started off as a run-of-the-mill debate about the role of the courts and differing judicial philosophies. But it exploded after Christine Blasey Ford came forward and testified that Kavanaugh drunkenly attacked her at a party when they were teenagers decades ago. In his own testimony, Kavanaugh unequivocally denied Ford’s charges, as well as other allegations.

[Read more: Senate narrowly confirms Brett Kavanaugh to Supreme Court in 50-48 vote ]

It was a wrenching couple of weeks on Capitol Hill as protesters swarmed Senate office buildings, occupied the steps of the Capitol and sought to confront any senator representing a potential swing vote.

Some senators were given extra security details as anti-Kavanaugh protesters surrounded them in the hallways in between votes and committee meetings.

Along the way, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., choked up on the Senate floor talking about the evils of sexual violence. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, repeatedly defended his performance running the confirmation hearings as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

And top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell cited both Fischer and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, as examples of women supporting Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh opponents cast support for the nomination as disregard for women and victims of sexual assault, a characterization rejected by the senators from Nebraska and Iowa.

“I have led the battles here to protect survivors of sexual assault in the military,” Fischer said.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation drew praise from Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and denunciations from Midlands Democrats, who said it was a slap in the face of women.

Democrat Jane Raybould, who is running against Fischer, said Kavanaugh’s testimony revealed him to be a “fire-breathing partisan with a political ax to grind.”

“It showed he lacks the basic temperament to sit on the highest court in the land,” Raybould said. “His aggressiveness and rants about conspiracy theories made it crystal clear that he’s not a neutral umpire calling balls and strikes on questions about the Constitution.”

Fischer, meanwhile, saw Kavanaugh’s performance before the committee as an impassioned defense against baseless allegations.

“He was falsely accused,” Fischer said. “And what his family, what he has gone through, what he will continue to go through now. I think he should be impassioned about that.”

Fischer criticized Senate Democrats for holding onto Ford’s allegations and then leaking them when they were supposed to be confidential.

“I appreciate professor Ford’s sincere testimony,” Fischer said during her floor speech. “I believe she has experienced a traumatic event that no woman should have to endure. There is no evidence, though, that Judge Kavanaugh was the perpetrator. A seventh FBI background investigation of Judge Kavanaugh failed to corroborate professor Ford’s account. Moreover, there are a number of key facts missing from professor Ford’s story.”

And Grassley suggested the assault allegations came out only after Kavanaugh opponents found they couldn’t defeat him on the merits.

“People that don’t want him on the court couldn’t find anything wrong with his qualifications so they kept digging up things from 35 years ago that, in the end, never had any corroboration,” Grassley said.

Advocates from Nebraska and Iowa had flown to Washington in the days leading up to the vote to make the case for or against Kavanaugh.

[Read more: Ford-Kavanaugh controversy has divided Americans — even sexual assault survivors ]

Members of Concerned Women for America encouraged lawmakers to support the nomination, including Iowans Tamara Scott, the group’s state director, and Kathryn Kueter, a survivor herself.

Both women said they felt like the committee’s questioning of Ford was akin to the way one would question a child.

“I think they coddled her,” Scott said. “I think she was treated with kid gloves and Kavanaugh got kickboxing gloves.”

Scott, Iowa’s Republican National Committeewoman, said the entire episode strengthened the resolve of Kavanaugh supporters.

“Our hearts go out to folks who have been injured by sexual assault,” Scott said. “But that doesn’t mean Kavanaugh is responsible.”

On the other side of the fight, about two dozen Nebraska women ranging in age from high school to senior citizens were on the hill urging Sasse and Fischer to vote no.

They included 71-year-old Omaha attorney Eileen Reilly, who manages the legal department for the Women’s Center for Advancement in Omaha and said she’s a survivor several times over.

From the driving instructor who molested her at 17 to the boss who tried to force his way into her hotel room on a road trip — it all came back to her as she listened to Ford’s testimony.

“I felt like I was right back there, experiencing it live,” Reilly said. “I was undone. I felt raw and turned inside out.”

Reilly said she doesn’t often vote for Republicans and she worked on the campaign of Democrat David Domina when he ran against Sasse in 2014. Still, she said she has tried to keep an open mind about him and was hopeful when aides told the group that Sasse was undecided and wrestling with various concerns. She said they were disappointed to later see statements from his office that he had always been leaning in favor of Kavanaugh.

Sasse was initially a Kavanaugh booster. Since the allegations surfaced, he has declined World-Herald interview requests.

During an emotional, 20-minute floor speech Wednesday night, Sasse decried the media circus surrounding the nomination, and criticized partisans for using the episode to advance their political goals and President Donald Trump for mocking Ford’s story.

Democrats had their own criticism of Republican handling of the nomination.

Just before the vote, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Kavanaugh’s confirmation represented one of the saddest moments in Senate history.

“The road that led us here has been bitter, angry and partisan, steeped in hypocrisy and hyperbole and resentment and outrage,” Schumer said.

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