Senate Republicans have delivered Judge Brett Kavanaugh a majority vote on the Senate floor in a procedural vote Friday morning, putting him one step closer to Supreme Court confirmation and making conservatives’ dream of shifting the high court to the right all but realized.
The 51-49 vote came after a dramatic few weeks, in what was already a highly partisan and bitter confirmation fight, as a number of women stepped forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.
Fifty Republicans and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted for Kavanaugh. Manchin had appeared poised to vote with the majority whichever way the vote went. The only Republican to vote no was Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
One swing senator, Susan Collins (R-ME), voted yes on the procedural vote but is not technically announcing her vote on the final confirmation until later Friday afternoon. She has, however, made multiple comments in recent days suggesting she’s comfortable confirming Kavanaugh. The third Republican who remained undecided before the vote, Jeff Flake of Arizona, voted yes, but has not yet announced his position on the final vote scheduled for Saturday.
GOP leaders had to delay the vote on him for a week when three senators from their own caucus, enough to sink the nomination, demanded an FBI probe into the claims.
On Thursday, senators of both parties were able to review the report produced by the follow-up background check. Republicans emerged from a briefing claiming it showed no evidence that corroborated the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school, and Deborah Ramirez, a college classmate of Kavanaugh’s who accused him of exposing himself to her.
Democrats criticized the report as being incomplete, pointing out that the FBI reached out to only 10 witnesses among the dozens that were offered to investigators.
The allegations will cast a shadow on Kavanaugh if the 53-year-old heads to the court for a lifetime appointment. Currently a judge on the influential federal appeals court in D.C., Kavanaugh has a reliably conservative legal record preceded by years as a GOP lawyer during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
His likely addition to the Supreme Court stands to bring about a dramatic shift in its jurisprudence on abortion rights. He was nominated to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, a sometimes swing justice who mostly voted to uphold Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal nationwide. Whether Kavanaugh and the court’s four other conservatives seek to reverse Roe outright or dismantle it incrementally remains to be seen. The irony of a fifth anti-abortion vote being provided by a judge credibly accused of sexual assault will not be lost on his critics.
The drama over the sexual misconduct allegations was not the only flash point in the confirmation fight over Kavanaugh. Democrats also objected to the limited production of records documenting his tenure in George W. Bush’s White House. They also raised concerns about his ability to be independent, given his deep involvement in partisan fights of the past. Those concerns were exacerbated by his combative performance at a hearing last week on the sexual assault allegations, in which he said he was the victim of a plot of “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” and he lobbed belligerent questions back at the Senate Judiciary Democrats.
His aggressive testimony, however, helped rally Republicans to his side, when his confirmation appeared to be in real danger. The testimony offered by Blasey Ford was both raw and steady, and even Republicans acknowledged they found her compelling. How the Senate handled the accusation became a symbol, for many people, of how society is struggling to take seriously victims’ allegations.
In recent weeks, security in the Capitol has been ramped up due to the surge in protestors roaming Senate office buildings. Sen. Collins received threatening messages, while Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford both also reported death threats.
A final vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation is scheduled for Saturday.