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Trump goes to Supreme Court for formal Kavanaugh investiture

The Supreme Court held a special sitting on Nov. 8 for the formal investiture ceremony of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. President Trump and first lady Melania Trump attended as guests of the court. (Fred Schilling/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s formal investiture at the Supreme Court on Thursday was filled with pomp and tradition — but only about five minutes’ worth.

With President Trump and the first lady in the front row of the historic courtroom, the justices received Kavanaugh’s formal commission from the president, and the newest justice took the oath of office once again.

Kavanaugh was sworn in the day he was confirmed by the Senate, Oct. 6, and a couple of days later had a public ceremony at the White House. He’s been on the bench for more than a month, and Thursday’s formal investiture served as more of a party for friends and relatives. The courtroom was filled with politicians and former co-workers from the George W. Bush White House.

It was an event at which the president was seen but not heard.

In a reminder of the controversy surrounding his confirmation, Kavanaugh skipped the traditional walk down the Supreme Court steps with the chief justice, where new members for decades have had their photos taken by a waiting throng of news photographers. A court spokeswoman cited security concerns.

Acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker performed what may have been his first public act in the position by presenting Kavanaugh to the court. But his commission, read by the clerk of the Supreme Court, Scott Harris, was signed by Jeff Sessions, the attorney general forced out by Trump just a day earlier.

The audience included two Supreme Court nominees who never made it to the bench. One was Judge Merrick Garland, Kavanaugh’s former colleague on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who was nominated in 2016 by President Barack Obama. The Republican-controlled Senate never granted Garland a hearing, holding the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia open for the next president to fill.

The other former nominee was Harriet Miers, who was chosen for the court by Bush but withdrew her nomination in the face of conservative opposition. She was once Kavanaugh’s boss in the White House.

Republican politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), filled the front row. Retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who once employed Kavanaugh as a clerk and now is replaced by him, sat next to Melania Trump.

Instead of his usual place at one end of the bench, Kavanaugh sat in the mahogany chair used by Chief Justice John Marshall from 1819 to 1835. Kavanaugh’s parents were close enough behind him to put a hand on his shoulder.

As Kavanaugh was escorted to the bench, only his new colleagues rose. They were one short; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg earlier in the day had been admitted to a hospital with broken ribs after a fall Wednesday night in her chambers.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. led Kavanaugh in taking a now-familiar oath, in which he pledged to “do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”