President Donald Trump is nominating U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy and possibly cementing a moderate conservative majority on the nation’s highest tribunal.
“I do not ask about a nominee’s personal opinions,” Trump said Monday night at the White House. “What matters is not a judge’s political views, but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and Constitution require. I am pleased to say that I have found, without doubt, such a person. Tonight, it is my honor and privilege to announce that I will nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.”
Kavanaugh was accompanied at the podium by his wife and two young daughters.
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“Mr. President, I am grateful to you and humbled by your confidence in me,” Kavanaugh said. “I am deeply honored to be nominated to fill [Justice Kennedy’s] seat on the Supreme Court.”
He added, “My judicial philosophy is straightforward. A judge must interpret the Constitution as written … I teach my students at Harvard Law School that the Constitution’s separation of powers protects the liberties of the people.”
“Tomorrow, I begin meeting with members of the Senate, which plays a crucial role in this process,” Kavanaugh said. “I will tell each senator that I revere the Constitution. I believe that an independent judiciary is the crown jewel of our constitutional republic. If confirmed by the Senate, I will keep an open mind in every case, and I will always thrive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law.”
Kavanaugh was considered the frontrunner as soon as Kennedy announced his retirement plans, and Trump said he would nominate a replacement in time for the choice to be confirmed before the November midterm election.
He successfully navigated a Senate confirmation when former President George W. Bush nominated him to his current post in 2006. He previously had served in such White House positions as senior associate counsel and assistant to the president.
Kavanaugh began his legal career working as a clerk for Circuit Court Judge Walter Stapleton after graduating from Yale Law School in 1990. He had the chance to clerk for Justice Kennedy for one term in 1993.
He also worked as an attorney for the Office of the Solicitor General in the Department of Justice and as an associate counsel for independent counsel Kenneth Starr before becoming a partner at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh:
- Age: 53
- Birthplace: Washington, D.C.
- Wife: Ashley Estes (former personal secretary to President George W. Bush)
- Two children
- Schools: Georgetown Preparatory, Yale University, undergraduate and law
- Clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy
- Served in Bush 43 White House
- Worked for independent counsel Kenneth Starr in Whitewater investigation
- Religion: Catholic, Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.
Kavanaugh has decided recent cases based on what he refers to as the “major rules doctrine.” He explained in the dissent for the 2017 case United States Telecom Association v. Federal Communications Commission that Congress must clearly express if it wishes to assign an agency authority of vast economic and political significance.
More generally, he is viewed as an originalist who will decide cases on the nation’s highest court in the manner of Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. If that proves to be the case, Kavanaugh could be the sixth vote in a conservative majority deciding many major cases for years to come.
Because of Kavanaugh’s more Establishment-oriented background, he is viewed as a safer choice. So Trump’s choice of Kavanaugh may indicate a desire on the president’s part to avoid what many thought would be a far more bruising confirmation battle on behalf of several of the other four finalists, most notably Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Barrett, 46 and a Catholic like Kavanaugh, had a rough time of it when Democrats made her faith a divisive issue during her 2017 confirmation hearing to a federal appeals court. She is an active participant in a charismatic Catholic lay fellowship. Trump reportedly has said she will be his choice if he has a third opportunity to nominate a member of the Supreme Court.
“Judge Kavanaugh’s demonstrated record of bold constitutional conservatism means we don’t have to be told or to take on faith how he will make determinations,” Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and CPAC, said in an op-ed for The Hill. “His more than 300 written opinions reveal his trust in the words of the Constitution and its application to government actions.”
Schlapp notably worked closely with Kavanaugh while serving as the White House political director during the first four years of the Bush administration. Kavanaugh is viewed as a conservative but one who isn’t afraid to cross the line at times, such as rejecting two constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Similarly, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told Fox News on Monday that he rejects the criticism of some conservatives who fear Kavanaugh could be more moderate than conservative. Fitton said he believes strongly that Kavanaugh will be a solid conservative addition to the court.
Kavanaugh has resisted the expansion of administrative-agency power when ruling on past cases, particularly in regard to the Environmental Protection Agency. He has opposed judicial activism, stating during a speech at Notre Dame Law School in 2017 that judges should decide cases without regard to policy preferences or political allegiances.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) criticized all the names on the shortlist of potential nominees Trump promised during the 2016 to use. Schumer singled out Kavanaugh, attacking his decisions on net neutrality, saying he put powerful interests ahead of Americans.
Writing last week in The Wall Street Journal, author J.D. Vance, a longtime friend of Kavanaugh, described him as “a jurist who adheres to his principles and can influence his future colleagues on the bench. He is the most qualified candidate by all the criteria that matter. On top of that, he is a good and decent man of integrity. He would be a worthy Supreme Court justice.”
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