AILSA CHANG, HOST:
President Trump hosts a swearing-in ceremony tonight at the White House for the newest justice on the Supreme Court. Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed over the weekend on a narrow party-line vote, will be on the bench tomorrow when the Supreme Court holds oral arguments. Kavanaugh promised to serve without bitterness and to put the contentious and emotional confirmation process behind him.
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BRETT KAVANAUGH: The Supreme Court is a team of nine, and I will always be a team player on the team of nine.
CHANG: President Trump was less conciliatory in his remarks. Earlier today, he predicted Kavanaugh's position on the high court will give a political boost to Republicans. We'll hear more about that in a moment. But first let's go to NPR's Scott Horsley. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So give us a picture of how Kavanaugh's presence on the court will likely shift its decisions over the next few decades.
HORSLEY: He is certainly going to shift it to the right. Remember; he was chosen from a list drawn up by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation of reliable conservatives. And that's something you couldn't necessarily say about the justice he'll be replacing, Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy of course was Kavanaugh's mentor. He did the swearing in this evening. And although Kennedy was a Reagan appointee and generally conservative, he occasionally sided with the court's liberal wing, most famously in a string of gay rights cases but also, for example, reaffirming abortion rights.
Kavanaugh is expected to be a more conservative judge, and that leaves Chief Justice John Roberts as the pivot point on the court. It'll be up to him to decide how much judicial restraint to exercise. And that will determine whether this rightward drift is a matter of small steps or one big leap.
CHANG: Do you think the very bitter confirmation fight over the past several weeks has damaged the court's reputation as an apolitical body?
HORSLEY: It certainly has that potential. You now have five conservative justices appointed by Republicans, four liberals appointed by Democrats. And to the extent they rule along partisan lines, that - they could come to be seen as, you know, partisans in robes, not impartial arbiters who rise above politics. The court itself tried tonight to make a show of unity. All eight of Kavanaugh's fellow justices were at the White House to make a stand that way. Kavanaugh said he knows and respects all of his future colleagues, and he promised that he would be a justice for all Americans. But the president's tone was much more partisan, and Donald Trump lambasted the Democrats who led the fight to keep Kavanaugh off the bench.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process.
HORSLEY: Trump also pointedly thanked the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee but not the Democrats, and he led a standing ovation for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, which will just be salt in the wounds for Democrats who are still smarting over the way McConnell kept a Supreme Court seat open during the final year of President Obama's term.
CHANG: That's right - with the nominee Merrick Garland. What was the purpose of tonight's event at the White House - because Kavanaugh was already quietly sworn in on Saturday shortly after the Senate voted to confirm his nomination. So this was just kind of a repeat of that.
HORSLEY: The most benign interpretation was this was a chance to publicly rehabilitate Kavanaugh after that bruising confirmation battle and begin to heal some of the wounds left by that fight. For President Trump, though, it was also a chance to stoke the partisan flames and to remind everyone that he is responsible for putting these conservatives on the bench. That's, more than anything, what has endeared Trump to social conservatives and evangelicals, and he'll be touting that in a series of campaign rallies across the country this coming week.
CHANG: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.