WASHINGTON - Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice Saturday night after the bitterly polarized U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed him. The Senate vote delivered an election-season triumph to President Donald Trump that could swing the court rightward for a generation after a battle that rubbed raw the country's cultural, gender and political divides.
Kavanaugh was quickly sworn in at the court building, across the street from the Capitol, even as protesters chanted outside.
In a statement, the court says Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the Constitutional Oath and retired Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy will administer the Judicial Oath in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court. Both oaths will be administered so Kavanaugh can participate in the work of the court immediately.
A formal investiture ceremony will take place at a special sitting of the court at a later date.
The climactic 50-48 roll call capped a fight that seized the national conversation after claims emerged that he had sexually assaulted women three decades ago — allegations he emphatically denied. Those accusations transformed the clash from a routine struggle over judicial ideology into an angry jumble of questions about victims' rights, the presumption of innocence and personal attacks on nominees.
His confirmation provides a defining accomplishment for President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, which found a unifying force in the cause of putting a new conservative majority on the court.
Before the sexual accusations grabbed the Senate's and the nation's attention, Democrats had argued that Kavanaugh's rulings and writings as an appeals court judge had raised serious concerns about his views on abortion rights and a president's right to bat away legal probes.
Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, the only Republican to oppose the nominee, voted "present," offsetting the absence of Kavanaugh supporter Steve Daines of Montana, who was attending his daughter's wedding.
It was the closest roll call to confirm a justice since 1881, when Stanley Matthews was approved by 24-23, according to Senate records.
Murkowski said Friday that Kavanaugh was "a good man" but his "appearance of impropriety has become unavoidable." Republicans hold only a 51-49 Senate majority and therefore had little support to spare.
President Donald Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh came under intense scrutiny after multiple women came forward to accuse the 53-year-old judge of sexual assault or sexual misconduct.
The allegations led to Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee during an epic hearing. Ford's pained recounting of the alleged sexual assault she said happened while she and Kavanaugh were in high school and Kavanaugh's blistering denials gripped the nation as hours of testimony aired on national TV.
Kavanaugh acknowledged Thursday he "might have been too emotional" when testifying.
"Going forward, you can count on me to be the same kind of judge and person I have been for my entire 28-year legal career: hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded, independent and dedicated to the Constitution and the public good," he wrote.
Sen. Jeff Flake, a retiring senator and frequent thorn in the side of Trump, achieved a delay long enough for an FBI to reopen its background investigation of the nominee. Republicans emerged confident that the FBI investigation into the allegations unearthed no new corroborating details.
The struggle over Kavanaugh’s nomination reflected the stakes. At 53, he will likely serve on the court for decades. In the short term he will provide the decisive fifth vote for a conservative majority on the nine-member court.
His nomination was greeted by staunch protest in the District with thousands of anti-Kavanaugh protesters swarming Capitol Hill over the past week. On Thursday, nearly 300 protesters, including comedian and actress Amy Schumer, were detained by Capitol Police during a demonstration.
Political strategists in both parties suggest the GOP's enthusiastic embrace of Kavanaugh despite the allegations may have shifted the political landscape — at least temporarily — by injecting new energy into the most passionate Republican voters a month before the election. Trump's aggressive defense of Kavanaugh — and more recent attacks against his female accuser — have resonated particularly with white working-class men, who are a shrinking voting bloc nationally but remain a critical segment of Trump's political base.
For now, many men apparently agree with Trump's warning that the surge in women speaking out against sexual violence in the #MeToo era has created "a very scary time" for men in America.
"Democrats have been trying to destroy Judge Brett Kavanaugh since the very first second he was announced," Trump declared as he rallied voters in Minnesota on Thursday night. He added: "What they're putting him through and his family is incredible."
At a political rally in Mississippi Tuesday night, Trump mimicked Ford's responses during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week. The audience laughed as Trump, at times inaccurately, recounted what he described as holes in her testimony. The president’s comments were greeted with instant backlash from both sides of the political aisle and on social media.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.