WASHINGTON — Newly sworn-in Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh told a packed White House gathering Monday night he will work to be a stable and unifying presence on the court without harboring any bitterness from his contentious confirmation process.
At the ceremony, President Donald Trump told the new justice, “You, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.” Critics have argued the investigation was not thorough enough to merit that conclusion.
“My focus now is to be the best justice I can be,” Kavanaugh said after taking a symbolic oath of office in the East Room ceremony from the man he replaced, retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. “My goal is to be a great justice for all Americans and for all of America. I will work very hard to achieve that goal. I was not appointed to serve one party or one interest but to serve one nation.”
Trump, as is customary when installing a new justice, introduced Kavanaugh, a Yale Law School graduate. The president called Kavanaugh “an outstanding intellect” and a “brilliant scholar.” Trump wasted little time in the nationally televised ceremony touching on the partisan battle over Kavanaugh's nomination stemming from sexual assault allegations against the judge.
Trump publicly apologized to Kavanaugh and his family for the confirmation process, which he has blamed on Senate Democrats.
“What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process,” Trump said as the new Supreme Court justice, his wife and two daughters looked on.
The president thanked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and other supporters and senators who helped confirm Kavanaugh. His speech then attempted to strike a forward-looking tone.
“It’s about what kind of nation we are going to be and what kind of country our children will inherit,” Trump said. “It is up to us to reclaim our heritage of equal and impartial justice . . . . It is up to us to renew the bonds of love and affection that brings us all together as one great American family.”
Kavanaugh, 53, of Maryland, and a former federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., is scheduled to hear his first court case at 10 a.m. Tuesday. He was confirmed Saturday in a highly anticipated 50-48 Senate vote that generally broke along party lines.
By Monday, he already had taken the two oaths of office required of U.S. Supreme Court justices. Hours after gaining Kavanaugh's Saturday confirmation, Chief Justice John Roberts and Kennedy presided over a private swearing-in ceremony.
The standing-room White House ceremony Monday night kicked off a week of campaign rallies by Trump in four states over five days as he seized the Kavanaugh confirmation as a political victory.
With less than a month until the midterm election — which will determine which party controls the House of Representatives and the Senate — the president and his allies claimed a victory in placing Kavanaugh on the court despite a confirmation process fraught with bitter partisanship and an FBI probe into allegations of sexual assault against the justice by women from more than 30 years ago. Kavanaugh emphatically has denied the allegations.
Trump said Republicans will “do incredibly well” in November, slamming Democrats for a “disgraceful performance” during Kavanaugh’s confirmation, calling the sexual assault allegations a “hoax” by the Democrats.
“I thought the way they behaved was absolutely atrocious,” Trump said of Democrats on Monday morning as he left the White House for an event in Orlando, Florida. “ . . . I thought that the way they conducted themselves, the way they dealt with a high-level, brilliant, going to be a great justice of the Supreme Court — the way they really tortured him and his family, I thought it was a disgrace.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the minority leader, Monday reiterated a speech he gave on the Senate floor: “Our country needs to have a reckoning on these issues and there is only one remedy. Change must come from where change in America always begins — the ballot box. So, to Americans who are outraged by what happened here, there’s one answer: Vote."
Other Democrats have said Kavanaugh's joining the court remains tainted after his narrow confirmation.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) said over the weekend that if Democrats win back the House in November he would open a formal investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh. Nadler would become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee if Democrats retake the chamber.
But fellow Democrat Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware called the move “premature” Sunday in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
And White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Sunday said: “Justice Kavanaugh should not be seen as tainted. He should be seen as somebody who went through seven FBI investigations.”