Washington — Justice Brett Kavanaugh called himself grateful and optimistic Thursday night, avoiding controversy in his first major public appearance since his stormy Supreme Court confirmation a year ago.
But protesters had other ideas.
The 54-year-old Kavanaugh chose a friendly audience for his remarks, a dinner of more than 2,000 members of the Federalist Society at Washington's Union Station. The conservative legal organization has championed judges appointed by President Trump, including Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Kavanaugh spoke mainly of gratitude in a talk that lasted less than 30 minutes, peppered with sports references, praise for his colleagues and humor. He largely avoided references to his angry denial during his confirmation hearings of allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were both teenagers. He was confirmed 50-48, largely along party lines.
The justice conceded during his talk that friends "paid a heavy price, too heavy a price" for their support during the hearings, including losing business and being insulted and threatened. "I'm well aware of that and it pains me daily," he said.
Outside, the liberal activist group Demand Justice, which wants Congress to impeach Kavanaugh, erected a huge video screen and showed Ford's testimony from the hearings on it.
A banner nearby read "Kavanaugh lied."
A long line of dinner guests, many in tuxedos and gowns, snaked past women dressed in red robes, like characters from Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale."
Protesters shouted, "I believe Dr. Ford, I believe Anita Hill" and "Kavanaugh's a liar! Kavanaugh's unfit" as attendees waited to go inside, according to USA Today.
Police escorted a few protesters from the station at the start of Kavanaugh's talk.
Some demonstrators with whistles briefly disrupted his speech, the Reuters news agency reports.
In a statement emailed to USA Today, Demand Justice Senior Counsel Katie O'Connor said, "You can claim to respect survivors of sexual assault or you can pay for a celebration of Brett Kavanaugh, but you can't do both. Any organization that doesn't want to be complicit in normalizing Kavanaugh should withdraw its support from The Federalist Society and pledge not to give in the future."
Facebook was also targeted, due to its reported sponsorship of the talk, USA Today said.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential contender who's gone at it recently with Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, also aimed a tweet at the social media giant:
Unlike past dinners featuring justices and other prominent political figures, Thursday's talk wasn't aired on C-Span or live-streamed. But it was open to press coverage and still photographers. Gorsuch and Justice Samuel Alito also were at the dinner.
Kavanaugh has maintained a low profile during his first term on the court. His lone outside appearance was at a conference of judges and lawyers in Chicago alongside retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, his former boss and the man he replaced on the court.
Kavanaugh described the past 18 months as eventful, including the Washington Capitals capturing the Stanley Cup and the Washington Nationals winning the World Series. "In between, I got a new job," he said, prompting a standing ovation.