WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A deeply divided U.S. Senate on Saturday confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, as Republicans dismissed accusations of sexual misconduct against the conservative judge and delivered a major victory to President Donald Trump.
By a vote of 50-48, the Senate gave a lifetime job to Kavanaugh, 53, after weeks of fierce debate over sexual violence, privilege and alcohol abuse that convulsed the nation just weeks before congressional elections on Nov. 6.
The Senate vote takes the highest U.S. court down a more conservative path, perhaps for many years, and is a bitter blow to Democrats already chafing at Republican control of the White House and both chambers of the U.S. Congress.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation gives conservatives a 5-4 majority in any future legal battles on contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, transgender rights, industry regulation, and presidential powers.
He was being sworn in almost immediately on Saturday by Chief Justice John Roberts.
Adding to the day’s drama, women protesters in the Senate gallery shouting, “Shame on you!” briefly interrupted the confirmation vote.
Another group of protesters stormed toward the doors of the nearby Supreme Court building with raised fists. Police stood guard at the doors.
Kavanaugh’s nomination became an intense personal and political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her in the upstairs bedroom of a home in a wealthy suburb of Washington in 1982.
Two other women accused him in the media of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.
Kavanaugh fought back against the accusations, denying them in angry and tearful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that was viewed live on television by around 20 million people.
Trump said on Saturday he was “100 percent” certain that Ford named the wrong person when she accused Kavanaugh.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One while flying to a campaign rally in Kansas, Trump said of Kavanaugh: “We’re very honored that he was able to withstand this horrible, horrible attack by the Democrats.”
Trump watched the confirmation vote on a large-screen television tuned to Fox News in a wood-paneled cabin on the plane. He flashed two thumbs up when the final vote was declared and aides on board applauded.
Trump is seeking a legacy as the president who put a strongly conservative stamp on the court. He stood by Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge with a history of advancing Republican causes.
Hundreds of protesters against Kavanaugh gathered on the grounds of the Capitol and at the Supreme Court. A total of 164 people were arrested in the protests, U.S. Capitol Police said.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter:
“Confirming Brett Kavanaugh in the face of credible allegations of sexual assault that were not thoroughly investigated, and his belligerent, partisan performance…undermines the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.”