Judge Brett Kavanaugh built a solidly conservative record during his 12 years on the appeals court in Washington that decides consequential cases on health care, the environment and other major governmental policies. Now, he is President Donald Trump’s nominee to become a Supreme Court justice.
Kavanaugh, 53, had long been mentioned in Washington chatter as a potential high court choice by a Republican president because of his educational background, intellectual firepower and an unyielding commitment to a legal approach championed by conservative Supreme Court justices such as Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
“No matter how intense the incoming fire, he’ll stand by his legal principles,” said Justin Walker, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville who clerked for Kavanaugh in 2010 and 2011.
A Maryland native whose mother was a public school teacher who went on to serve as a state judge in Maryland, Kavanaugh got his undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University. He launched a career that veered into Washington politics, including work on President George W. Bush’s legal team for the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida.
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Kavanaugh earned a reputation as a hard worker during clerkships for two appeals court judges and then for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a conservative whom he would replace on the Supreme Court, if confirmed. He served in the Solicitor General’s Office at the Justice Department and worked on President Bill Clinton-related investigations in the Office of the Independent Counsel under Kenneth W. Starr.
He also spent five years in the White House under George W. Bush as associate counsel, a senior associate counsel and as staff secretary, which prompted Democrats to cast him as an inexperienced partisan ideologue during his contentious confirmation in 2006 to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
That means Kavanaugh is not a stranger to tough confirmation fights. Bush first selected him for the D.C. court in 2003, but the nomination languished and lapsed. After his renomination, the Senate voted 57-36 in 2006 to confirm him. Kennedy administered the judicial oath to his former clerk.
“I’ll exercise the judicial power with modesty and restraint,” Kavanaugh said at his swearing-in ceremony. “I’ll interpret the law as written. And at all times, I’ll work to maintain the absolute independence of the judiciary, which in my judgment is the crown jewel of our constitutional democracy.”
Legal experts say his work on the D.C. Circuit bolsters his conservative credentials, but it also gives Democrats plenty of fodder on controversial topics in the looming confirmation fight such as a woman’s access to abortion, gun rights, consumer protections and environmental regulations.
This year, Kavanaugh authored a dissent to a D.C. Circuit decision to allow a teenaged immigrant to get an abortion, writing that it “is ultimately based on a new constitutional principle as novel as it is wrong: a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. Government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand, thereby barring any Government efforts to expeditiously transfer the minors to their immigration sponsors before they make that momentous life decision.”
Kavanaugh and his wife have two daughters, and he has coached their basketball teams, Walker said. A marathon runner, he also is a reader at his Catholic church and tutors students, Walker said.
“He’s the opposite of a Georgetown cocktail party guy,” Walker said, adding he’s more of the “drink a beer and watch a hockey game” crowd.
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