Brett Kavanaugh, the embattled judge accused of sexual assault while in high school and college, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a 50 to 48 vote Saturday, cementing a 5-4 conservative majority on the court.
“I do not consent!” one woman screamed after Vice President Mike Pence told those sitting in the gallery that they weren’t allowed to voice an opinion during the vote. And then the protesters erupted into screams as the senators attempted to continue. Several times, the roll was paused until protesters were escorted out of the chambers screaming “shame on you!”
Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, is expected to turn the court to the right in a way not seen since the 1930s. While the Supreme Court has continually had five registered Republican justices since the 70s, they rarely decided cases as a bloc, especially with retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy’s more centrist swing vote.
After more than a decade on the D.C. federal appellate circuit court, Kavanaugh has written a litany of opinions that take on administrative agencies and what Republicans would call government overreach on issues like environmental regulation. As a pro-gun rights judge, Kavanaugh could also make the court — which hasn’t heard a Second Amendment case in more than eight years — more likely to take one up.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation signals a second win for Trump and Republicans, who tanked President Barack Obama’s efforts to put Merrick Garland on the court after Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death in February 2016. To put Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, on the bench, Senate Republicans had to invoke the so-called “nuclear option” to end filibusters on nominees and change the necessary votes from 60 to just a simple majority.
“President Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has been one of the saddest moments in the history of the Senate,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York and Senate Minority Leader, said on the floor ahead of the vote. He called Kavanaugh an “extreme partisan.”
The nomination of Kavanaugh descended into partisan rancor last week after Christine Blasey Ford, a California research psychologist, testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in the early 1980s when she was 15 and he was 17. Kavanaugh responded with tear-filled rage and accused Ford and the other women who accused him of misconduct, as being part of a Democratic conspiracy to stop his nomination.
Every seated Republican voted in favor of Kavanaugh's nomination except for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was moved by Ford's testimony. “I believe that Brett Kavanaugh is a good man. It just may be that in my view he’s not the right man for the court at this time,” Murkowski said Friday. She voted "present" Saturday so Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, could attend his daughter's wedding without having to fly back to D.C. to ensure Kavanaugh would be confirmed.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, with Murkowski the other pro-choice female Republican in the Senate, announced she would be would voting “yes” on Kavanaugh due to to the fact the FBI failed to turn up corroborating evidence of the alleged assault of Ford.
“None of the individuals Professor Ford says were at the party has any recollection at all of that night,” Collins said. “Judge Kavanaugh forcefully denied the allegations under penalty of perjury.”
The fallout from the Senate fight could galvanize both sides heading into the 2018 midterms. With Democrats taking a clear lead going into November, the GOP had already kicked its campaigns into high gear. Now, the party hopes how Democrats treated Kavanaugh will push voters into booths.
On the other hand, Kavanaugh’s confirmation could unleash a wave of pain and anger from women, already running for Congress and state legislatures in record numbers. “Change must come from where change in America always begins: the ballot box,” Schumer said Saturday afternoon during his prepared remarks.
If Democrats take over the House in November, the man in line to chair the House Judiciary Committee has already promised to re-open an investigation into the sexual misconduct accusations against Kavanaugh — as well as any perjury he may have committed while attempting to deflect them.
Democrats questioned whether Kavanaugh lied under oath when he said he didn’t excessively drink in high school or college — and had never blacked out — despite his Yale classmates recalling otherwise.
Kavanaugh will hear several important cases in his first term on the bench. He may turn out to be a deciding vote on whether Trump could be indicted or forced to testify on matters relating to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He could also hear cases on the Trump administration’s actions regarding the Affordable Care Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or whether a question of citizenship could be allowed on the 2020 census.
“He will make the Senate, and the country, proud,” Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Cover: Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Supreme Court associate justice nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool via Bloomberg)