WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump apologised to Mr Brett Kavanaugh for the bitter battle over his confirmation to the Supreme Court and declared him "innocent" of the sexual assault allegations that nearly derailed his nomination.
"On behalf of our nation, I want to apologise to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain you have been forced to endure," Mr Trump said on Monday during a ceremonial swearing-in at the White House. "You, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent."
Mr Kavanaugh, acknowledging the "contentious and emotional" fight over his confirmation, said he had "no bitterness" and promised to "always be a team player on the team of nine".
Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Mr Kavanaugh once clerked for and whose place he has taken on the court, administered the oath of office.
Mr Kavanaugh's installation cements the strongest conservative majority on the court since the New Deal, delivering on a decades-long ambition of the American right. It comes just in time to motivate evangelicals and social conservatives to turn out to vote in November elections that will determine control of Congress.
His ascent to the court was sealed by a 50-48 Senate vote last Saturday. Mr Trump has spent the past few days relishing Mr Kavanaugh's confirmation, which appeared in doubt as recently as last week after three women made sexual assault allegations against the nominee.
During a speech in Florida earlier on Monday, Mr Trump denounced the accusations against Mr Kavanaugh as "a hoax" perpetrated "by people that are evil". The President's rendering of a verdict on the sexual assault allegations risks further antagonising political opponents at a moment that the "Me Too" movement demands accountability for sexual misconduct.
His opponent in the 2016 presidential race, former state secretary Hillary Clinton, told CNN yesterday the ceremonial swearing amounted to "a political rally", adding that "it further undermined the image and integrity of the court".
She said: "It saddens me because our judicial system has been viewed as one of the main pillars of our constitutional government."
Mr Kavanaugh's elevation to the high court had been considered safe until California university professor Christine Blasey Ford went public with explosive allegations that he had sexually assaulted her in 1982, while they were in high school. Two other women also accused him of sexual misconduct.
He denied the allegations and in a blistering partisan attack during a Senate hearing on Sept 27, accused Democrats of an "orchestrated political hit".
Mr Kavanaugh now moves to the Supreme Court after spending 12 years as a judge on the influential US Court of Appeals in Washington, where he built a conservative judicial record and a reputation for being affable and well prepared.