Stephanie Hallett
October 06, 2018 12:59 pm
Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images

Amid screams and cries of “shame on you” from the gallery, U.S. senators voted 50-48 to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, which is a lifetime appointment, on Saturday, October 6th. All but one Republican—Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—voted in his favor, while all Democrats, except for West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, voted no on Kavanaugh.

Sen. Murkowski was marked as “present”—rather than no—during today’s vote, though she had initially said she would oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. On October 5th, however, fellow Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) announced that he would be in Montana attending his daughter’s wedding during the Saturday Senate hearing, potentially forcing the Senate to remain open late into the night to allow him to return to Washington to vote. As a favor to her colleague, Sen. Murkowski agreed to make use of a peculiar Senate procedure that would allow Sen. Daines to be at the wedding.

Don Stewart, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, explained the procedure that the two senators employed: “When a senator is necessarily absent (for example, attending their daughter’s wedding), they can ‘pair’ with another senator who is voting the opposite way.”

Sen. Murkowski said she remains a “no” vote, but explained her decision to be marked present: “I have extended this as a courtesy to my friend. It will not change the outcome of the vote. But I do hope that it reminds us that we can take very small steps to be gracious with one another and maybe those small, gracious steps can lead to more.”

Kavanaugh’s nomination was controversial from the start. Immediately after President Donald Trump announced the federal appeals court judge as his pick, women’s rights activists expressed fear that Kavanaugh would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, roll back critical provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and undo countless other progressive victories.

Then, on September 16th, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with allegations that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her while the two were in high school; Kavanaugh adamantly denied the allegations. Soon after, two additional women came forward with sexual abuse allegations against the nominee, including Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s, and Julie Swetnick, who said she knew him in high school.

Eleven days later, on September 27th, in a hearing bearing a striking resemblance to the 1991 Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas sexual harassment hearing, Dr. Blasey and Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, both holding fast to their positions.

Throughout the hearing, Democrats on the committee insisted that the FBI should investigate the sexual abuse allegations before any vote was held on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Finally acquiescing to that demand, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona—who was at that time still undecided on Kavanaugh—stated that he’d only vote yes to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate if an FBI investigation was conducted, but required that it take one week or less. Republicans agreed, and the FBI undertook an investigation, though some Democrats criticized the bureau for failing to interview key witnesses, including both Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey.

During an October 5th hearing on the Senate floor, many Democratic senators made powerful statements in support of Dr. Blasey and sexual assault survivors everywhere. However, Democratic Sen. Manchin explained his decision to vote for Kavanaugh in a Twitter statement, saying that after speaking with Kavanaugh and reviewing the FBI’s report, he found Kavanaugh to be a “qualified jurist.”

Refusing to align with her party, Sen. Murkowski said that she voted against Kavanaugh’s nomination because she believes that “we’re dealing with issues right now that are bigger than the nominee and how we ensure fairness and how our legislative and judicial branch can continue to be respected,” but that she found the decision very difficult to make.

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