WASHINGTON • The US Senate is expected to confirm conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court justice today - offering President Donald Trump a big political win and tilting the nation's high court decidedly to the right.
The months-long battle over Mr Kavanaugh's nomination has gripped Washington, laying bare the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill and the political polarisation of America just a month before mid-term elections.
The Senate vote will bring an end to a raucous nomination process defined by harrowing testimony from a woman who says Mr Kavanaugh tried to rape her when they were teenagers - and his fiery rebuttal.
If Mr Kavanaugh is confirmed, Mr Trump will have succeeded in having his two picks seated on the court - a major coup for the Republican leader less than halfway through his term.
Mr Kavanaugh's promotion to the Supreme Court will also stand as a demoralising defeat for Democrats, who battled hard to block the 53-year-old judge at all costs.
Mr Kavanaugh's confirmation was all but sealed last Friday when he won the support of key Senate Republican Susan Collins and conservative Democrat Joe Manchin.
The facts presented do not mean that Professor (Christine Blasey) Ford was not sexually assaulted that night or some other time, but they do lead me to conclude that the allegations fail to meet the more likely than not standard. Therefore, I do not believe that these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court.
REPUBLICAN SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS
QUALIFIED FOR THE JOB
My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced any type of sexual assault in their life. However, based on all of the information I have available to me, including the recently completed FBI report, I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist.
DEMOCRAT SENATOR JOE MANCHIN
NOT THE RIGHT MAN
I believe Brett Kavanaugh's a good man. It just may be that in my view he's not the right man for the court at this time.
REPUBLICAN SENATOR LISA MURKOWSKI
Their statements of support brought the number of senators supporting Mr Kavanaugh to 51 in the 100-member chamber.
"This is a great day for America," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News late last Friday, congratulating his colleagues for "refusing to roll over under all of this intense pressure".
Mr Kavanaugh's nomination as a replacement for retiring justice Anthony Kennedy was controversial from the start - but the initial focus was solely on the conservative views held by the married father of two.
But his ascent to the Supreme Court was in serious doubt last week after research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford testified that he had sexually assaulted her at a Washington area party in the early 1980s.
The brutal hearing sparked a supplemental Federal Bureau of Investigation dive into Mr Kavanaugh's background and a week-long delay of the Senate vote.
While many senators say they were satisfied with the FBI probe, Dr Ford's lawyers say the investigation was insufficient.
"An FBI investigation that did not include interviews of Dr Ford and Judge Kavanaugh is not a meaningful investigation in any sense of the word," they said in a statement quoted in US media.
Ms Collins - a moderate Republican from Maine - said Mr Kavanaugh was entitled to the "presumption of innocence" as the allegations against him were not substantiated with corroborating evidence.
While acknowledging that Dr Ford's testimony was "sincere, painful and compelling", Ms Collins added: "We will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness."
Immediately after that speech, Mr Manchin announced his support, calling Mr Kavanaugh a "qualified jurist" who "will not allow the partisan nature this process took to follow him onto the court".
Mr Manchin faces extraordinary political pressure. He is up for re-election in West Virginia, a state Mr Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016.
The stage was set for the final confirmation when the Senate ended debate on the nomination last Friday with a procedural 51-49 vote - a move cheered by Mr Trump, who said he was "very proud".
If he wins confirmation, Mr Kavanaugh - who has faced a bruising process that raised questions over his candour, partisan rhetoric and his lifestyle as a young man - will seal a conservative majority on the nine-seat high court, possibly for decades to come.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski described her decision to oppose Mr Kavanaugh as "agonising", and said that while she hopes he will be a "neutral arbiter" on the court, she "could not conclude that he is the right person for the court at this time".
However, she said while she would vote "no" today, she would ask that her vote be registered as "present" so as not to jeopardise the majority - and allow a fellow Republican to attend his daughter's wedding instead of returning to Washington to vote.