Some of Washington, D.C.’s top attorneys, Justice Department leaders and Trump administration insiders were at the White House Monday evening for Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s ceremonial oath-taking.
Top names in Washington’s legal community, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Arnold & Porter’s Lisa Blatt, crowded into the East Room as retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh replaces, delivered the ceremonial swearing-in. Kavanaugh was already privately sworn in at the Supreme Court Sunday.
Monday’s event took place three months after President Donald Trump named Kavanaugh, then a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as his pick for the high court in the same room. The nomination was caught up in a bitter confirmation fight after Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation and testimony that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students.
Yet, as Kavanaugh vowed to ascend to the Supreme Court “with gratitude and no bitterness” after those misconduct allegations almost derailed his nomination, the atmosphere inside the East Room was celebratory.
White House Counsel Donald McGahn, a prominent hand in Trump’s push to remake the federal judiciary, sat near the center of the room, as he was praised by Kavanaugh as “a warrior for fairness.” McGahn was seated near his chief of staff, Ann Donaldson, along with her husband, Brett Talley, a DOJ official who last year withdrew his nomination for a federal judgeship.
The room also broke out into standing ovations for Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who has rapidly moved to confirm Trump’s judicial picks. The Trump presidency has so far confirmed 69 federal judicial nominees, including Kavanaugh and a second Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch.
Meanwhile, Washington, D.C.’s top appellate lawyers and Republican insiders also came out in force. Solicitor General Noel Francisco and Principal Deputy Solicitor General Jeff Wall—along with his wife, Porter Wilkinson, a former Kavanaugh clerk—both attended Monday’s event. They were surrounded by appellate lawyers who backed Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Blatt, a prominent Supreme Court lawyer who came out in favor of Kavanaugh early in his nomination, was seated near a wall in the East Room, chatting with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. Blatt’s endorsement of Kavanaugh—she described herself as a liberal feminist backing the judge—was cited by Sen. Susan Collins as one of the reasons the Maine Republican voted in favor of Kavanaugh.
As Blatt and Conway chatted, Gibson Dunn’s Helgi Walker engaged in conversation with Matt Schlapp, who heads the American Conservative Union. Walker, who worked with Kavanaugh as a lawyer in the George W. Bush White House, has been among the most prominent of Kavanaugh’s supporters during his confirmation.
In the same row as Walker and Blatt were Cooper & Kirk’s Chuck Cooper, and Latham & Watkins’ Maureen Mahoney, who testified on behalf of Kavanaugh before senators.
Rosenstein attended Monday’s ceremony hours after traveling with Trump on Air Force One amid weeks of speculation that he might be fired by the president. But Rosenstein, who worked along with Kavanaugh on independent counsel Ken Starr’s probe, claimed a seat Monday night near Judge Greg Katsas of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Not far behind was Beth Williams, Main Justice’s point person on judicial nominations, who praised Kavanaugh’s remarks as a “wonderful speech” after the ceremony.
Meanwhile, friends and former clerks in the seats included George Mason University’s Jennifer Mascott and Latham & Watkins’ Roman Martinez.
Quinn Emanuel’s Bill Burck, who was entangled in some of the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination, occupied a spot in the back row of the East Room. Burck, who represents former President George W. Bush, oversaw the team of lawyers that was charged with reviewing and producing records from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, guests shuffled into a private reception on the State floor, as they did three months ago—only this time, it was to celebrate Justice, not judge, Kavanaugh.