After bitter nomination fight, Brett Kavanaugh sworn in as U.S. Supreme Court justice

Following months of incendiary accusations, polarizing politics and rowdy Capitol protests, Brett Kavanaugh on Saturday was sworn in as the latest U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Senate's 50-48 vote one of the narrowest ever margins for a top court nomination

Brett Kavanaugh, left, is sworn in as the 114th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at a private ceremony on Saturday. (Fred Schilling/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/Associated Press)

Following months of incendiary accusations, polarizing politics and rowdy Capitol protests, Brett Kavanaugh on Saturday was sworn in as the latest U.S. Supreme Court justice. 

President Donald Trump's nominee to the top court was officially appointed in a private ceremony just hours after senators voted 50-48 to confirm his nomination, marking the end of a fight for the ages between Democrats and Republicans. It was one of the narrowest ever margins for a vote on a Supreme Court nomination.

As Kavanaugh was sworn in, hundreds of protesters in Washington chanted outside the court. Raucous demonstrators — largely anti-Kavanaugh — have been a fixture on Capitol Hill throughout the nomination process. Many believe Kavanaugh's appointment as a conservative justice to an ideologically divided top court could impact LGBTQ and abortion rights in the U.S., and may also influence the reach of presidential powers or the role of religion in society.

On Saturday, U.S. Capitol Police said they arrested 164 people for taking part in "unlawful demonstration activities." But Trump sought to downplay the number of protesters, tweeting that the crowd massing before the Supreme Court was "tiny" and appeared to be "mostly onlookers."

Before the vote, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, called the prospect of Kavanaugh's confirmation "a low moment for the Senate, for the court, for the country."

But Senate Republicans expressed an entirely different tone.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said, "The members of this body are duty bound to ensure we confirm justices of the Supreme Court who are men and women of the highest character and the most superlative qualifications."

"So fortunately, that is just the sort of nominee who stands before us today," McConnell said.

Following the vote, McConnell said the Senate "stood up for presumption of innocence," while Trump congratulated lawmakers on Twitter for confirming a "great nominee."

Kavanaugh's opponents had raised concerns that he'd push the court further right, including the possibility of rulings sympathetic to Trump's positions.

But for the past few weeks, the battle was dominated by allegations that he sexually abused women decades ago — accusations he continues to emphatically deny. 

While aboard Air Force One on his way to a rally in Kansas, Trump said "there is no one with a squeaky clean past like Brett Kavanaugh. He is an outstanding person and I'm very honoured to have chosen him."

At the rally, Trump condemned Democrats for what he called a "shameless campaign of political and personal destruction" against his nominee. As the crowd cheered, Trump declared it a "historic night"
shortly after signing the paperwork to make Kavanaugh's new status official.

Collins says no corroborating evidence

Despite fierce opposition from Democrats, by Saturday, Kavanaugh's confirmation was already all but certain. Two swing votes, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, announced Friday they would vote for Kavanaugh.

Collins told fellow senators that Christine Blasey Ford's dramatic testimony last month describing Kavanaugh's alleged 1982 assault on her was "sincere, painful and compelling." But Collins said the FBI had found no corroborating evidence from witnesses whose names Ford had provided.

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      "We will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness, tempting though it may be," she said. "We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy."

      Those passions were on full display in a fight that could energize both parties' voters in elections for control of Congress just five weeks away.

      Collins, perhaps the chamber's most moderate Republican, proclaimed her support for Kavanaugh at the end of a floor speech that lasted nearly 45 minutes. While she was among a handful of Republicans who helped sink Trump's quest to obliterate President Barack Obama's health-care law last year, this time she proved instrumental in delivering a triumph to Trump.

      Watch Collins explain why she will vote to confirm Kavanaugh:

      Republican Susan Collins explained to the Senate her reasons for supporting Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court 0:55

      Manchin, the only Democrat to vote for Kavanaugh on Saturday, announced his support for Kavanaugh in an emailed statements sent moments after Collins finished talking. He faces a competitive re-election race next month in a state Trump carried in 2016 by 42 percentage points.

      Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, a fellow moderate and a friend of Collins, was the only Republican to say she opposed Kavanaugh. But on Saturday, she voted "present" instead of "no," offsetting the absence of Kavanaugh supporter Steve Daines of Montana, who was attending his daughter's wedding. That rare procedural maneuver left Kavanaugh with the same two-vote margin he'd have had if Murkowski and Daines had both voted.

      Vice-President Mike Pence was available Saturday in case his tie-breaking vote was needed.

      Limit on debate passed

      In a procedural vote Friday that handed Republicans an initial victory, senators voted 51-49 to limit debate, defeating Democratic efforts to scuttle the nomination with endless delays.

      That vote occurred amid smouldering resentment by partisans on both sides, on and off the Senate floor.

      "What left-wing groups and their Democratic allies have done to Judge Kavanaugh is nothing short of monstrous," the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, Iowa's Chuck Grassley, said before the vote.

      When Trump nominated Kavanaugh in July, Democrats leapt to oppose him, saying that past statements and opinions showed he'd be a threat to the Roe vs. Wade case that assured the right to abortion. They said he also seemed ready to rule for Trump if federal authorities probing his 2016 campaign's connections to Russia try to pursue him in court.

      Watch some of the key moments from Kavanaugh's journey to the Supreme Court:

      A recap of Brett Kavanaugh's journey to the U.S. Supreme Court, from his nomination through a roller-coaster Senate hearing to confirmation. 4:41

      Yet Kavanaugh's pathway to confirmation seemed unfettered until Ford accused him of drunkenly sexually assaulting her in a locked bedroom at a 1982 high school gathering. Two other women later emerged with sexual misconduct allegations from the 1980s.

      Democrats also challenged Kavanaugh's honesty, temperament and ability to be nonpartisan after he fumed at last week's Judiciary hearing that Democrats had launched a "search and destroy mission" against him fuelled by their hatred of Trump.

      Kavanaugh will replace the retired justice Anthony Kennedy, who was a swing vote on issues including abortion, campaign finance and same-sex marriage.

      With files from CBC News