WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington, to succeed Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.
Trump made the announcement at the White House. NBC News broke the story shortly before the president’s made his choice public.
Kavanaugh serves on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which often rules on major challenges to federal laws and policies. If confirmed, he would make the Supreme Court solidly conservative, joining Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch — providing a five-vote majority.
He would be sure to join the conservatives more often than Kennedy, who sometimes voted with the court’s liberals in cases raising hot-button social issues.
Kavanaugh was nominated to the appeals court by President George W. Bush and confirmed in 2006 by a vote of 57-36. Four Supreme Court justices have come from the D.C. Circuit in recent years — John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.
Kavanaugh, 53, was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up nearby in Maryland, where his mother became a state court judge. After graduating from Yale University and Yale law school, he clerked for two federal judges and then for Kennedy.
In 1993, he served a one-year fellowship at the Justice Department working for Solicitor General Kenneth Starr. A year later, when Starr was appointed independent counsel, Kavanaugh became a key staff member in the investigations of the death of White House Counsel Vincent Foster and the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals. He helped write Starr’s report to Congress that laid out 11 possible grounds for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
Following a brief period in private law practice, he became Bush’s White House counsel and then staff secretary before he was nominated to be a federal judge. He met his wife, Ashley, while working at the White House where she was the president’s personal secretary. They have two daughters.
Noting Kavanaugh’s political connections, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at Kavanaugh’s 2006 confirmation hearing, “If there has been a partisan political fight that needed a very bright foot soldier in the last decade, Brett Kavanaugh was probably there.”
In a 2009 law review article, Kavanaugh said his experience in the White House persuaded him that “the job of president is far more difficult than any other civilian position in government” and that presidents should be exempt from civil lawsuits and criminal investigations or prosecutions while in office. But he wrote that such a change would require Congress to pass appropriate legislation.
Even if that happened, he wrote, the Constitution would provide a check against a law breaker in the Oval Office. “If the president does something dastardly, the impeachment process is available,” Kavanaugh wrote.
He enjoys widespread support from conservatives, though he was not on the original list of potential Supreme Court nominees released during the Trump campaign. His name was added last November.
Two of his court opinions, however, generated criticism from some conservatives that he did not go far enough in opposing Obama-era policies. In 2011, when his court upheld Obamacare, he wrote a dissent that said a federal law should have prevented the court from deciding the case. His critics said he should have concluded instead that Obamacare was unconstitutional.
More recently, Kavanaugh took a pragmatic approach during a high-profile court battle involving a teenager arrested for illegally crossing the southern border into the U.S. The appeals court ruled that she could temporarily leave immigration detention for an abortion.
In his dissent, Kavanaugh said the Trump administration conceded that the teen had a right to an abortion, but he argued that the court was wrong to conclude that she had the right “to an immediate abortion on demand.” He said delaying the procedure until she could be released to a U.S. sponsor would not impose an undue burden on the abortion right.
By contrast, one of his conservative colleagues on the court went further, writing that the woman had no right to an abortion at all because she entered the country illegally and was not a U.S. citizen.
The average time between a Supreme Court justice’s nomination and confirmation is about 11 weeks. If Kavanaugh’s experience follows that pattern, he could be on the court in time to prepare for the opening of the next term, on the first Monday in October.
No date has been set for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.