A Supreme Court sitting Thursday for the ceremonial investiture of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh took only 10 minutes, but it concentrated Washington’s political and legal drama in one room.
Matthew Whitaker made his first public appearance as acting attorney general, reading a presidential commission from the courtroom podium less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump forced the resignation of Jeff Sessions as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
But Kavanaugh has been hearing cases for weeks, and the official commission couldn’t be changed. When the Supreme Court clerk read the commission out loud, he announced it was signed by Trump and Sessions.
Kavanaugh is Trump’s second appointment to the Supreme Court, but he has said it won’t be his last. And it was who wasn’t at the ceremony — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — that added to the intrigue.
Ginsburg, the oldest justice at age 85, was recovering Thursday morning at George Washington University Hospital from a fall at the court Wednesday night that fractured three ribs on her left side, the court announced. She felt discomfort overnight and was admitted for observation and treatment.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump were there for the occasion. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., rumored to be among those who could be nominated as the next attorney general, arrived at the court with Trump and left with him as well.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attended, as speculation swirls that he could be the next Justice Department official to leave the agency. Until Wednesday’s appointment of Whitaker, he had overseen the probe into connections between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came to watch and spent some time chatting with former independent counsel Ken Starr, who led the investigation in the 1990s into Bill Clinton that led to impeachment. Kavanaugh was one of Starr’s investigators during that time. Also in the gallery was retiring House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., and retiring Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
For his part, Kavanaugh sat in a bench chair used by Chief Justice John Marshall from 1819 to 1835 and then walked up to the bench to take an oath — his fourth since being confirmed in October.
“We wish you a long and happy career in our common calling,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. told Kavanaugh.
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