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July 31, 2018

President nominates Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Kennedy on Supreme Court

President Trump announced July 9 that he is nominating federal appeals Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced that he is retiring at the end of this month after more than 30 years on the Supreme Court.

Kennedy’s retirement at age 81 gave the president the opportunity to nominate a second justice to the Supreme Court since he assumed office in January 2017. His first appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined the court in April 2017.

The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary is preparing to evaluate Kavanaugh’s professional qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice. Every member of the 15-member ABA committee will participate in the evaluation, which involves extensive peer review of the nominee’s integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament.  

Kavanaugh, who has served as a circuit court judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for 12 years, was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush. Prior to his appointment, Kavanaugh served as an associate White House counsel and as staff secretary to President Bush. He also served as an associate counsel to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr during the investigation of President Bill Clinton, and was a partner with the law of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. For the past 11 years, he also has taught at Harvard Law School.

A 1990 graduate of Yale Law School, the 53-year-old Kavanaugh was a law clerk for Justice Kennedy, Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinki and Third Circuit Judge Walter Stapleton.

Appearing with the president at the White House for the announcement of his nomination, Kavanaugh said that a judge “must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law,” and “must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Kavanaugh’s nomination and has indicated that he wants the Senate to confirm the Supreme Court nominee as quickly as possible, while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would be opposing the nomination because of concerns about the nominees’ conservative views.

Justice Kennedy, who was appointed in 1988 by President Reagan, said it “has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those on the Supreme Court,” and added that his decision to step aside was based on his deep desire to spend more time with his family. Prior to his service on the Supreme Court, he was a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals appointed by President Gerald Ford.

During his tenure, Justice Kennedy cast the deciding vote in a number of 5-4 Supreme Court decisions relating to constitutional rights, including;

  • Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), upholding  the 1973 opinion in Roe v. Wade regarding abortion rights;
  • Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S.S 551 (2005), opposing the death penalty for those who were under 18 when they committed their crimes;
  • Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008), granting Guantanamo Bay detainees the right to seek habeas corpus;
  • United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013), ruling that the federal government cannot discriminate against married lesbian and gay couples for the purposes of determining federal benefits and protections; and
  • Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

He also wrote the opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), ruling that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and that the government may not restrict the campaign contributions of corporations or unions to individual candidates.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. noted that Justice Kennedy’s jurisprudence “prominently features an abiding commitment to liberty and the personal dignity of every person,” and he “taught collegiality and civil discourse by example.”


Back to July 2018 Washington Letter