President Donald Trump on Monday night nominated federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court to fill the vacancy of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
In nominating Kavanaugh, Trump chose one of the more experienced judges on his short list, a so-called “steady insider” with a lengthy background in the courts and Washington politics.
Kavanaugh, 53, graduated from Yale Law School, was a top deputy to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the Whitewater probe and Clinton impeachment, served as staff secretary to a president and has been a federal circuit judge at a court widely seen as a Supreme Court stepping stone. He even attended prep school with Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s 2017 appointee to the Supreme Court.
“No one else on the president’s current list can rival Kavanaugh for Washington credentials,” ScotusBlog, a website that tracks the Supreme Court, said regarding the six people Trump interviewed for the nomination.
Kavanaugh has been a federal judge since 2006, nominated by his old boss, then-President George W. Bush. He’s been called a “solid conservative” as a judge, though he had been the subject of a “whisper” campaign against him, the Daily Caller reported, by some Trump supporters who didn’t think him conservative enough and didn’t like his ties to Bush.
Further, the New York Times reported that some Trump allies were concerned about Kavanaugh’s role with Starr, in which he worked on a legal argument outlining 11 types of grounds for impeaching a president, suggesting this wouldn’t bode well in the context of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Others touted him as a reliable conservative.
“He is much more conservative in his approach to law than Justice [Anthony] Kennedy,” Justin Walker, a University of Louisville law professor who clerked for Kavanaugh, told the Los Angeles Times. “There is no guesswork with Judge Kavanaugh. He is extremely predictable.”
ScotusBlog, in a review of his record, said: “Perhaps because of his years of executive-branch experience, Kavanaugh generally brings a pragmatic approach to judging, although his judicial philosophy is conservative.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where Kavanaugh has served, tends to be weighted by government-related and administrative cases. ScotusBlog found that, among his notable rulings, Kavanaugh frequently sought to “rein in Obama-era” environmental regulations, opposed the expansion of government authority, backed government’s power to detain “enemy combatants” and tended to favor employers in labor cases.
But the review also found Kavanaugh didn’t go as far as conservative “ideological purists” on some cases involving abortion, immigration and the Affordable Care Act.
Kavanaugh is married with two daughters.