WASHINGTON — Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court on Saturday by one of the slimmest margins in American history, locking in a solid conservative majority on the court and capping a rancorous battle that began as a debate over judicial ideology and concluded with a national reckoning over sexual misconduct.
As a chorus of women in the Senate’s public galleries repeatedly interrupted the proceedings with cries of “Shame!,” somber-looking senators voted 50 to 48 — almost entirely along party lines — to elevate Judge Kavanaugh. He was promptly sworn in by both Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — the court’s longtime swing vote, whom he will replace — in a private ceremony.
For Mr. Trump and Senate Republican leaders, who have made stocking the federal judiciary with conservative judges a signature issue, the Senate vote was a validation of a hard-edge strategy to stick with Judge Kavanaugh, even after his nomination was gravely imperiled by allegations by Christine Blasey Ford that he had tried to rape her when they were teenagers.
The president was exultant. “He’s going to go down as a totally brilliant Supreme Court justice for many years,” he told reporters, whom he had invited to join him in watching the vote on television aboard Air Force One. But Mr. Trump also derided the sizable protests against Judge Kavanaugh on the steps of the Supreme Court and the Capitol as “phony stuff,” and said it was a misnomer to imply that women were upset at his confirmation.
“Women, I feel, were in many ways stronger than the men in this fight,” the president said. “Women were outraged at what happened to Brett Kavanaugh. Outraged.”
The Kavanaugh confirmation, playing out against the backdrop of a midterm election where control of Congress is at stake, gave Republicans what they believe is momentum to ensure that they keep their slim Senate majority. Republicans are now painting Democrats and their activist allies as angry mobs; Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, delivered a speech on Saturday assailing what he called “mob rule,” while the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, told reporters that “the virtual mob that has assaulted all of us in this process has turned our base on fire.”
The bitter nomination fight, coming in the midst of the #MeToo movement, also unfolded at the volatile intersection of gender and politics. It energized survivors of sexual assault, hundreds of whom have descended on Capitol Hill to confront Republican senators in recent weeks. But it also left many feeling dispirited, as though their elected representatives have not heard their voices. And in the end, it challenged Americans’ faith in the Supreme Court as an institution that is above politics.
Washington had not seen such a brutal nomination fight — Mr. Cornyn called it a “cruel and reckless and indecent episode” — since 1991, when the law professor Anita F. Hill accused then-Judge Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her. Senators of both parties wondered aloud how the chamber, and the nation, will heal.
“The road that led us here has been bitter, angry and partisan — steeped in hypocrisy and hyperbole and resentment and outrage,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said on the Senate floor, minutes before the vote, adding, “When the history of the Senate is written, this chapter will be a flashing red warning light of what to avoid.”
Saturday’s vote reflected that fury, with the Capitol Police dragging screaming demonstrators out of the gallery as Vice President Mike Pence, presiding in his role as president of the Senate, calmy tried to restore order. “This is a stain on American history!” one woman cried, as the vote wrapped up. “Do you understand that?”
How Every Senator Voted on Kavanaugh’s Confirmation
The Senate voted 50-48 on Saturday to confirm the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh.
The final result was expected; all senators had announced their intentions by Friday. Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia was the lone Democrat to support Judge Kavanaugh. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — the sole Republican to break with her party — was recorded as “present” instead of “no” as part of an agreement with a colleague, Senator Steve Daines of Montana, who was attending his daughter’s wedding and would have voted “yes.”
By voting present, Ms. Murkowski spared Judge Kavanaugh the indignity of being confirmed by a single vote. The last time a justice was confirmed by that margin was in 1881, when Stanley Matthews was confirmed 24 to 23. Justice Thomas was confirmed by a four-vote margin.
When Saturday’s vote was over, Ms. Murkowski seemed drained. “I don’t know what you were doing when those voices were shouting and screams and I’m sure tears,” she told reporters, “but I was closing my eyes and praying, praying for them and praying for us and praying for the country. We need prayers. We need healing.”
Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation fulfills a long-held dream of conservatives, who have waged a decades-long campaign to remake the high court. In replacing Justice Kennedy, a moderate conservative, he will give the court a reliably conservative bloc. At 53, he is young enough to serve for decades, shaping American jurisprudence for a generation, if not more.
Mr. McConnell was unequivocal about what Republicans had accomplished.
“It is the most important contribution we have made to the country that will last the longest,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview, ticking through two Supreme Court justices and 26 federal appeals court judges confirmed in the last two years.
From the moment Mr. Trump nominated Judge Kavanaugh in July, Democrats made defeating his nomination their singular mission. Mr. Schumer vowed he would oppose Judge Kavanaugh “with everything I’ve got.” Democrats raised questions about his partisan past — he worked on the investigation that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and for the George W. Bush White House — and his judicial philosophy.
They warned that he would overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion, and raised questions about his expansive view of executive power, which they regarded as troublesome given that Mr. Trump is the subject of investigations into his conduct. They also questioned Judge Kavanaugh’s truthfulness about his role in several partisan episodes.
But until Dr. Blasey went public, Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation seemed assured. Her account — first in an article in The Washington Post and later in riveting testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee — unleashed a cascade of other allegations and prompted a last-minute F.B.I. inquiry into the judge’s conduct.
Judge Kavanaugh vigorously denied the allegations in his own angry and emotional testimony before the Judiciary Committee. Before Saturday’s vote, one of his accusers, Deborah Ramirez, who has said Judge Kavanaugh thrust his genitals in her face during a drunken dormitory party at Yale, issued a statement deploring what was about to happen.
“Thirty-five years ago, the other students in the room chose to laugh and look the other way as sexual violence was perpetrated on me by Brett Kavanaugh,” she wrote. “As I watch many of the senators speak and vote on the floor of the Senate I feel like I’m right back at Yale where half the room is laughing and looking the other way. Only this time, instead of drunk college kids, it is U.S. senators who are deliberately ignoring his behavior. This is how victims are isolated and silenced.”
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But just as Ms. Ramirez and Dr. Blasey became symbols of the #MeToo movement, Judge Kavanaugh became a symbol for aggrieved men. A hashtag, #BeersForBrett, sprang up on Twitter — a reference to the nominee’s response when senators asked him about his college drinking habits. “I liked beer. I still like beer,” he said.
As it did for the past week, the Senate debate on Saturday turned as much on Judge Kavanaugh’s own conduct during his Senate testimony as it did on questions of the law. Democrats railed against his fiery rhetoric — he called Dr. Blasey’s allegations “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” and directed barbed comments at his Democratic questioners — as the language of someone who was unfit for the nation’s highest court.
“I had concerns at the very beginning of this process, and I fear it more than ever at the end of the process,” Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, said Saturday on the Senate floor. “Any remaining hope that Judge Kavanaugh could be trusted to be an impartial justice or perceived to be an impartial justice was shattered by his opening statement at his last hearing.”
Republicans cast him as a man unjustly accused, who was trying to defend himself. Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, said he saw “someone who was seeking sincerely to defend his own record of public service, his own private conduct against great adversity, in circumstances in which he and his family have been dragged through the mud by no choice of their own.”
While the brawl over Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation may be over, people on both sides of the debate agree that it will have lasting ramifications on the Senate, the country and the court. Even some of the judge’s future colleagues sounded unsettled. On Friday, on the eve of the vote, two of them — Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — expressed concern that the partisan rancor over his nomination would damage the high court’s reputation.
“Part of the court’s strength and part of the court’s legitimacy depends on people not seeing the court in the way that people see the rest of the governing structures of this country now,” Justice Kagan said in an appearance at Princeton University. “In other words, people thinking of the court as not politically divided in the same way, as not an extension of politics, but instead somehow above the fray, even if not always in every case.”
Perhaps in an effort to tamp down the passions he has engendered, Judge Kavanaugh was sworn in quietly on Saturday, with his wife and two daughters by his side. When the last several justices were sworn in, the administration of at least one of the oaths was televised. But the court released only still photographs of Judge Kavanaugh’s ceremony. He will take his place on the bench, as the nation’s 114th justice of the Supreme Court, on Tuesday.
Nicholas Fandos, Catie Edmondson and Adam Liptak contributed reporting
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