Senators confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court Saturday in a vote lacking in drama but freighted with meaning, bringing to a close what senators called the nastiest confirmation battle in modern political history.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts was preparing to swear Judge Kavanaugh in later in the afternoon, making him Justice Kavanaugh.
Republicans linked arms, braved a political maelstrom and lead the chamber to a 50-48 vote, even as protesters shouted from the rafters, warning of impending electoral doom for those who’d backed the judge.
Every Republican on the floor voted in favor, save Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted “present.” All but one Democrat voted against confirmation. And one Republican missed the vote to attend his daughter’s wedding.
That deeply divided vote inside the Senate was mirrored outside the Capitol, where hundreds of angry liberal protesters rallied, chanting “Shame!”
Beyond the Beltway, though, the fight has energized Republican voters eager to defend the embattled judge and send a message that the anti-Trump resistance has gone too far.
“Our base is fired up,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had promised Republicans he would get Judge Kavanaugh through, and has now delivered on that.
Republicans said Saturday’s vote, albeit the narrowest in decades for a Supreme Court pick, amounted to a rejection of the nastiness, including abortions-rights protest coat hangers sent to senators’ offices, ambush protests in restaurants and “bribes” offered to senators to vote against the judge.
Democrats’ leader, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, told the anti-Trump resistance not to be discouraged, but to channel their anger into action.
“Change must come from where change in America always begins: the ballot box,” the New York Democrat said. “To so many Americans who are outraged by what happened here, there’s one answer — vote.”
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.