Justice Brett Kavanaugh, standing at the White House next to President Donald Trump, said he will arrive at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday with “no bitterness” following confirmation proceedings at which he was accused of sexual misconduct claims from his high school and college years.
Kavanaugh emphasized he will be “independent” and a “force for stability and unity” on the high court, which returns Tuesday for oral arguments in the second week of the new term. Acknowledging his contentious confirmation, Kavanaugh said: “That process is over. My focus now is to be the best justice I can be. My goal is to be a great justice for all Americans and for all America.”
Kavanaugh did not name his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, or issue any new denials of her claims that he pinned her to a bed and tried to rip off her clothing at a party in the 1980s.
In comments that echoed, almost verbatim, his opening statement at his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month, Kavanaugh called the high court a “team of nine and I always will be a team player on the team of nine.”
Trump opened the ceremonial oath-taking with criticism of the sexual abuse claims that roiled Kavanaugh’s proceedings. “I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain you have had to endure,” Trump said. Kavanaugh, Trump declared, faced a “campaign of personal destruction.”
All eight justices were in attendance when Trump entered the East Room of the White House flanked by Kavanaugh and retired Justice Anthony Kennedy who administered the judicial oath to Kavanaugh for the second time.
Kavanaugh already had taken the two oaths required of a new U.S. Supreme Court justice. On Oct. 6 in a private ceremony in the justices’ conference room, just hours after his Senate confirmation, he took the constitutional oath which was administered by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. Kennedy then administered the judicial oath to his former law clerk.
Besides Kavanaugh’s wife and two daughters, the court ceremony was attended by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan and Samuel Alito Jr.
Kavanaugh’s remarks at the White House came just days after he was confirmed 50-48, the narrowest margin for any modern Supreme Court nominee. Claims of sexual misconduct and perjury roiled Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings.
Ford, a research psychologist in California, alleged that Kavanaugh in a drunken stupor sexually assaulted her at a house party in Maryland in the 1980s. Kavanaugh strongly denied the claims, and there were no witnesses who said they remembered the alleged assault or had any information about it.
Several college friends described Kavanaugh as a heavy drinker as a young adult, and they disputed his assertion that he had never consumed so much alcohol to be unable to remember clearly the events of a previous night.
Kavanaugh, testifying on Sept. 27, derided the sexual misconduct claims as part of an “orchestrated” plot by Democrats upset with Trump’s presidential win and seeking revenge on behalf of the Clintons. His partisan slam drew rebukes from conservatives and liberals alike. Retired Justice John Paul Stevens said Kavanaugh was unfit to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
A law professor on Monday suggested, in a The New York Times op-ed, that Kavanaugh should have skipped the White House ceremony. Taking a pass would have been one measure to show his independence from Trump, he said.
“Much more than ceremonial independence will be necessary for Justice Kavanaugh to convince doubters he is the independent jurist he claims to be,” Michael Herz, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, wrote. “But not slouching dutifully back to the White House for a phony ceremony so the president can crow and give him his marching orders would be a good start.”
Herz said the White House ceremony “seems to have begun with Ronald Reagan, but Bill Clinton kept it up.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan did not take or retake their oaths at the White House after their confirmations in 2009 and 2010, respectively. President Barack Obama wanted the oaths taken at the Supreme Court as a symbol of their independence from the president who appointed them.
Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Alito and Neil Gorsuch, all took oaths a second time during a White House ceremony.
In a 2009 appearance at the Newseum in Washington, Justice Stevens, who would retire that June, said it was preferable for a president to come to the court for the oath-taking because “the justice is on his or her own” at the court, independent of the president who made the appointment. Stevens said he was “troubled by the incorrect symbolism” when justices were sworn in at the White House, and did not attend those ceremonies.
But Stevens did administer both oaths to Chief Justice Roberts at the White House in 2005. That situation however, was unusual. After the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Stevens, as the senior associate justice, had the oath-giving responsibilities.
Kavanaugh is expected to be sitting Tuesday morning when the justices, in the second week of the new term, resume hearing oral arguments. Kavanaugh has hired four female law clerks for the term.
In his remarks, Kavanaugh repeated Monday that he would be the first justice in history to hire four female clerks for a single term.