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Constitutional Freedoms

Victory! Senate Approves Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court

Trump's nominee overcame shameless opposition campaign, will cement conservative majority on the bench

Eighty-nine long days elapsed from the July 9 moment of President Donald Trump’s announcement of his nomination to the moment Saturday when the Senate voted 50-48 to confirm him.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh will now become the newest associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as soon as he is sworn in.

Kavanaugh will actually take two oaths. The first will be administered by a current member of the court, with the second public and ceremonial swearing in also done by a justice, but with Trump to deliver congratulatory remarks. The latter reportedly will happen Monday or Tuesday.

Even as the final roll call was taken, protesters disrupted it with screams and yells, forcing the presiding officer, Vice President Mike Pence, repeatedly to call on the sergeant-at-arms to “restore order in gallery.”

The confirmation victory means Trump has successfully nominated two new justices for the court, thus shifting it to a solid conservative majority for the first time in many generations. Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in April 2017.

An elated Trump tweeted congratulations to his “GREAT NOMINEE” and said Kavanaugh will be officially sworn in later today:

Kavanaugh is the 69th federal judge to be nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate. There are an additional 30 such nominations pending before the Senate that the Republican majority could push through before the November 6 election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) thanked Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the lone Democrat to cast his vote to confirm Kavanaugh. The only Republican senator not to vote for Kavanaugh was Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who paired with the absent Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), thus making her vote “present.”

Confirmation came after nearly three weeks of division and invective sparked by uncorroborated allegations from three women of sexual assaults they claimed to have suffered from Kavanaugh in high school or college.

Kavanaugh immediately and passionately denied the allegations and accused Senate Democrats of colluding with left-wing lawyers and activists in launching a despicable ambush.

Related: Lindsey Graham Slams Activists Who ‘Yell and Spit,’ Praises Colleague Susan Collins

Things came to a head on Thursday when senators received the FBI’s report of its seventh background investigation of Kavanaugh since 1998, when he was a member of special counsel Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater probe of then-President Bill Clinton.

The bureau said none of the witnesses it was asked to interview by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary corroborated the allegations against Kavanaugh — and several of them flatly contradicted them.

On Friday, the Senate voted 51-49 to limit debate on the nomination to 30 hours, which set up Saturday’s dramatic final tally.

A stirring speech on Kavanaugh’s behalf on the Senate floor by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Friday afternoon was greeted by a standing ovation by her Republican colleagues.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) followed shortly thereafter in announcing he would also vote for Kavanaugh, making Saturday’s outcome all but certain.

Trump praised Collins’ speech, describing it as “impassioned” and “beautiful” and saying it came “from the heart.”

Related: McConnell Proud Senate Stood Up Against ‘Mob Rule’ for Kavanaugh

Senate Democrats began calling for delaying the confirmation process shortly after Kavanaugh’s nomination was announced. They also demanded an estimated 1 million documents from Kavanaugh’s years working in the White House for President George W. Bush.

But Republicans responded that Kavanaugh had answered thousands of questions on the record, provided more financial and other personal documents than any previous Supreme Court nominee, and authored more than 300 opinions as a federal appellate judge.

One thing on which Republicans and Democrats could agree was the surge in public interest in the controversy engendered by the allegations against Kavanaugh. Just before the final vote, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he’d “never seen the public reaction to this particular nomination and the hearings leading up to it than I’ve seen in this case.”

“This afternoon we’ve reached the day of reckoning.”

Durbin, who is also the Senate Democratic whip, told colleagues during a floor speech that “the fact that this has touched a nerve with so many Americans, particular to women who have gone through this experience, should put this whole debate on context.”

He added, “It should not be cheapened or lessened by political charges. We have to understand the gravity of this case in light of cultural changes we are facing in America. This afternoon we’ve reached the day of reckoning.”

Kavanaugh began his legal career working as a clerk for Circuit Court Judge Walter Stapleton after graduating from Yale Law School in 1990. He later had the chance to clerk for the very jurist he is about to replace, Anthony Kennedy, for one term in 1993.

He had also worked as an associate counsel for independent counsel Kenneth Starr in the 1990s.

Bush would later take him on as a senior associate counsel and assistant at the White House. (Democrats had been demanding documents from those years.) The former president then nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where he has served since 2006.

Kavanaugh has decided recent cases based on what he refers to as the “major rules doctrine.” He explained in the dissent for the 2017 case United States Telecom Association v. Federal Communications Commission that Congress must clearly express if it wishes to assign an agency authority of vast economic and political significance.

Kavanaugh has resisted the expansion of administrative agency power when ruling on past cases, particularly in regard to the Environmental Protection Agency. He has opposed judicial activism and is generally viewed as an originalist. He has crossed the conservative line at times, such as when he rejected two challenges to the Affordable Care Act.

meet the author

Connor D. Wolf covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at [email protected].