Justice Kavanaugh makes low-key Supreme Court debut, after raucous confirmation

Justice Brett Kavanaugh received a warm welcome from his new colleagues Tuesday as he made a low-key public debut at the Supreme Court, in a collegial scene that stood in sharp contrast to the chaos of his confirmation process.

The 114th justice's first day on the job consisted of hearing oral arguments in a pair of criminal cases. In the first, he asked five questions of lawyers from both sides of the issue, but did not inject any personal opinions or hint at how he might vote.

During the prior evening's ceremonial swear-in, Kavanaugh promised "always to be a team player on a team of nine," all of whom attended the East Room ceremony.

While President Trump railed against Democrats and apologized to Kavanaugh "on behalf of our nation" during that ceremony, the new justice seemed to be trying to bring the temperature down after his narrow confirmation. He battled multiple allegations of sexual misconduct ahead of that weekend vote, but claimed Monday evening he harbors "no bitterness" -- despite his fiery testimony about the allegations two weeks ago.

Kavanaugh's new "team" smiled as they joined Kavanaugh Tuesday morning. He looked over to his family, sitting a few feet away in the guest gallery. Also in attendance was his predecessor, the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh had clerked for the justice in 1993-94 and was sworn in by him in separate oath ceremonies.

"It gives me great pleasure, on behalf of myself and my colleagues, to welcome Justice Kavanaugh to the Court," said Chief Justice John Roberts, in a brief bench statement at the start of the session. "We wish you a long and happy career in our common calling."

A grinning Kavanaugh chatted amicably with his new benchmate Justice Elena Kagan. At the opposite end of the bench was Justice Neil Gorsuch, a fellow Trump appointee and former high school classmate.

There were no protests in the court, unlike his contentious Senate hearing last month. Several-dozen protesters outside the court were outnumbered by the more than a hundred people waiting in line to attend the public session inside.

The arguments commenced in separate cases dealing with whether certain federal felons can receive longer prison sentences if they committed prior "violent offenses." Defining the limits of "physical force" used in unarmed robberies took up much of the justices' time.

Kavanaugh first spoke up about 20 minutes into the hour-long argument, after six of the justices had already asked questions.

Kavanaugh's first question was technical in nature. "Why don't we follow" the court's 2010 precedent on defining physical force, as it applied to the current petition, he wanted to know. "Why wouldn’t that encompass the Florida statute (where the offenses took place)?"

An earnest Kavanaugh paid close attention to the points made by attorneys, occasionally donning his glasses to look over the written briefs before him. He glanced a couple of times over to the guest gallery.

Arguments will resume Wednesday in separate cases, one involving the detention of undocumented immigrants.

Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48 on Saturday, and shortly afterward took his official constitutional and judicial oaths, allowing him to begin work immediately.

After Tuesday's arguments, Kavanaugh was expected to join in a private lunch with his new colleagues, a tradition that goes back decades.

He has already hired four law clerks -- all female, a first in the court’s history. And he is moving into his new chambers, once occupied by Justice Samuel Alito. Alito will now get the space where Kennedy worked.

Part of the duties of the junior justice include taking notes at the weekly closed-door conferences, where current appeals are voted on and pending cases are added to the docket.

And he will serve on the court's internal Cafeteria Committee, where such agenda items as dessert selections and diner complaints will be discussed. 

The case argued Tuesday is Stokeling v. U.S. (17-5554). A ruling will be issued within a few months and could be authored by Kavanaugh himself. The justices will make that decision in the coming days.