Justice Brett Kavanaugh took the bench with his new Supreme Court colleagues for the first time Tuesday in a jovial atmosphere that was strikingly at odds with the tension and rancor surrounding his high court confirmation.
The new justice dived into his new job, asking a handful of questions in the first arguments of the day following a traditional welcome from Chief Justice John Roberts, who wishing Kavanaugh “a long and happy career in our common calling.”
Kavanaugh took his seat at the end of the bench to Roberts’ far left just after 10 a.m., a visible manifestation of a moment that Republicans have dreamed of for decades, and Democrats have dreaded, with five solidly conservative justices on the court.
Kavanaugh asked questions of both sides in arguments over increased prison sentences for repeat offenders. He jumped in with his first question after most of the other justices had spoken.
Questions from Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s two high court picks, suggested they could vote against the Trump administration and side with a criminal defendant from Florida who is fighting an increase in his sentence from just over six years to possibly more than 15 years.
There were no disruptions in the courtroom and the justices laughed at each other’s jokes. Justice Sonia Sotomayor even appeared to playfully pinch Gorsuch’s arm as she asked a question about the kind of physical force necessary to have a crime be treated as violent under a federal enhanced sentencing law.
The newest justice’s wife and two daughters were in seats reserved for justices’ guests, along with retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh replaced Kennedy on the bench.
The 53-year-old Kavanaugh occasionally chatted privately with his seatmate, Justice Elena Kagan. From time to time, he put on reading glasses to refer to papers in front of him.
There was a long line of people hoping to see Kavanaugh’s first appearance. Police put up barricades in front of the court, but there were few protesters in the early morning.