WASHINGTON—Brett Kavanaugh was already sworn in as a Supreme Court justice on Oct. 6, but the White House held another swearing-in ceremony for him, with the president in attendance, after a prolonged confirmation hearing.
Addressing a packed East Room on Oct. 8, President Donald Trump introduced his nominee with an apology.
“On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure,” Trump said.
“What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency, and due process. [In] our country, a man or a woman must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. And, with that, I must state that you, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.”
Kavanaugh went through 32 hours of testimony, had hundreds of thousands of pages of his writing examined, and faced three last-minute accusations of sexual misconduct before he was approved by the Senate in a 50–48 vote on Oct. 6. From the start, Democrats vowed to block his confirmation, and almost succeeded by withholding an allegation of sexual misconduct until shortly before the Senate was scheduled to vote on his nomination. There was no corroboration for any of the sexual-misconduct allegations.
Kavanaugh thanked Trump for standing by him throughout the hearings, but made it clear that he wouldn’t let the politics of the nomination process influence his judgment while on the bench.
“The Supreme Court is an institution of law. It is not a partisan or political institution,” he said. “I take this office with gratitude and no bitterness on the Supreme Court. I will seek to be a force for stability and unity. My goal is to be a great justice for all Americans.”
He acknowledged that the confirmation process had “tested” him, echoing a Wall Street Journal op-ed he wrote shortly after his visibly emotional testimony in response to sexual-assault allegations by Christine Blasey Ford.
Kavanaugh succeeds retiring conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, who paved the way for a conservative successor by resigning during a Republican-led administration. While considered conservative, Kennedy sided with liberal judges on certain social issues, often making him a deciding swing vote. Incidentally, Kavanaugh clerked for Kennedy, and in his opening statement in the confirmation hearings described Kennedy as “a mentor, a friend, and a hero.”
In attendance at the ceremony was White House counsel Don McGahn, who has been working on the nominations of federal judges for the White House. Trump announced McGahn’s decision to resign back in August, but McGahn delayed his exit until after Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Also in attendance was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who Trump told reporters earlier in the day would stay on at the Justice Department. His employment at the DOJ came under question after a report said he had talked about secretly recording the president—allegations that Rosenstein denies.