By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sought to put a bruising confirmation battle behind him on Monday at a White House ceremony in which President Donald Trump declared him innocent of sexual misconduct and apologised for the heated process.
Kavanaugh, whose bid to join the top U.S. court nearly failed after a California professor accused him of assaulting her when they were in high school, said he would enter his new job without bitterness despite a political fight that he told lawmakers had destroyed his family and his name.
“The Senate confirmation process was contentious and emotional. That process is over. My focus now is to be the best justice I can be,” he said at the White House, with his wife and children standing nearby.
Kavanaugh said he would aim to be a force for stability and unity on the court, whose other eight members all attended the ceremony.
“Although the Senate confirmation process tested me as it has tested others, it did not change me,” he said.
Kavanaugh, who served as part of special counsel Kenneth Starr’s team that investigated Democratic President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and testified that the sexual misconduct accusations were funded by left-wing groups seeking revenge on behalf of the Clintons, said the Supreme Court was not a partisan body.
“The Supreme Court is an institution of law. It is not a partisan or political institution,” he said. “The Supreme Court is a team of nine, and I will always be a team player on the team of nine.”
Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings exploded in controversy after Christine Blasey Ford went public with allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982.
Kavanaugh gave a forceful, emotional denial of those allegations during testimony before lawmakers that some Democrats said showed a lack of judicial temperament.
The U.S. Senate voted 50-48 on Saturday to confirm him, with just one Democrat supporting him.
His confirmation to the lifetime job was a victory for Trump and locked in a conservative majority on the court.
“On behalf of our nation, I want to apologise to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure,” Trump said at the start of a ceremonial swearing-in.
“Those who step forward to serve our country deserve a fair and dignified evaluation, not a campaign of political and personal destruction based on lies and deception,” he said.
Trump, under pressure from moderate Republican senators, had ordered a brief FBI investigation, whose results Republicans viewed as failing to corroborate the allegations and which Democrats saw as insufficient.
Trump, who drew criticism for mocking Ford at a rally, said Kavanaugh had been cleared.
“A man or a woman must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty,” Trump said to applause. “And with that I must state that you, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.”
Kavanaugh has cited his mother, a former state judge in Maryland, as an inspiration, and emphasized his commitment to the advancement of women. He noted that his newly hired law clerks were all women, which he said was a historic first at the Supreme Court.
He will hear his first arguments as a justice on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Eric Beech, David Alexander and Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Peter Cooney)