The bitterly polarized Senate narrowly confirmed Brett Kavanaugh on Saturday to join the Supreme Court, delivering an election-season triumph to President Donald Trump that could swing the court rightward for a generation after a battle that rubbed raw the country’s political divides.
The near party-line vote was 50-48, capping a fight that seized the national conversation. Acrimonious to the end, the battle featured a climactic roll call that was interrupted several times by protesters in the Senate Gallery before Capitol Police removed them. Vice President Mike Pence presided over the roll call, his potential tie-breaking vote unnecessary.
Kavanaugh was sworn in almost immediately by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The vote gave Trump his second appointee to the court, tilting it further to the right and pleasing conservative voters who might have revolted against GOP leaders had Kavanaugh’s nomination flopped. Democrats hope that the roll call, exactly a month from elections in which House and Senate control are in play, will prompt infuriated liberals to stream to the polls to oust Republicans.
In final remarks just before the voting, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said a vote for Kavanaugh was “a vote to end this brief, dark chapter in the Senate’s history and turn the page toward a brighter tomorrow.”
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York looked ahead to November, appealing to voters beyond the Senate chamber: “Change must come from where change in America always begins: the ballot box.”
Rep. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, confronting a tough re-election race next month in a state that Trump won in 2016 by a landslide, was the sole Democrat to vote for Kavanaugh. Every voting Republican backed the 53-year-old conservative judge.
Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, the only Republican to oppose the nominee, voted “present,” 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.
Republicans hold only a 51-49 Senate majority and therefore had little support to spare.
It was the closest roll call to confirm a justice since 1881, when Stanley Matthews was approved by 24-23, according to Senate records.
Within minutes, dozens of political and advocacy groups blasted out emailed reactions.
Trump weighed in Saturday morning on behalf of the man he nominated in July. “Big day for America!” he tweeted.
Democrats said Kavanaugh would push the court too far, including possible sympathetic rulings for Trump should the president encounter legal problems from the special counsel’s investigations into Russian connections with his 2016 presidential campaign. And they said Kavanaugh’s record and fuming testimony at a now-famous Senate Judiciary Committee hearing showed he lacked the fairness, temperament and even honesty to become a justice.
About 100 anti-Kavanaugh protesters climbed the Capitol’s East Steps as the vote approached, pumping fists and waving signs. Capitol Police began arresting some of them. Hundreds of other demonstrators watched from behind barricades. Protesters have roamed Capitol Hill corridors and grounds daily, chanting, “November is coming,” ”Vote them out” and other slogans.
In the procedural vote Friday that handed Republicans their crucial initial victory, senators voted 51-49 to limit debate, defeating Democratic efforts to scuttle the nomination with endless delays.
Kavanaugh would replace the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was a swing vote on controversial issues.