Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s life seems as carefully constructed as the Supreme Court arguments he will hear if he is confirmed to the high court. He checks all the boxes of the ways of Washington, or at least the way Washington used to be.
He’s a team player — the conservative team — stepping up to make a play at key moments in politics, government and the law dating to the Bill Clinton era and the salacious dramas of that time.
Yet in a capital and a country where politics has become poisonously tribal, Kavanaugh has tried to cover his bases, as Washington insiders have long done. He’s got liberal friends, associates and role models. He was a complicated figure in the scandal-ridden 1990s, by turns zealous and restrained as an investigator.
If he wins confirmation, he’ll be seated with Justice Elena Kagan, the Obama-era solicitor general who hired him to teach at Harvard when she was law school dean, as well as with his prep school mate, Justice Neil Gorsuch. Kavanaugh’s law clerks have gone on to work for liberal justices. He’s served with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in mock trials of characters in Shakespeare plays, a night out from the real-life dramas.
Amateur athlete, doer of Catholic good works, basketball-coaching dad, Yale degrees, progression from lawyer to White House aide to judge — it’s all there in a rarefied life of talent and privilege, though strikingly not one of great personal wealth.
The only skeleton in Kavanaugh’s closet that the White House has owned up to is as American as apple pie.
Spending on baseball games helped drive him into debt one year, the White House said. He’s also been ribbed for hoarding gummy bears when he worked as an aide to President George W. Bush. Because Republicans are not releasing critical documents for the hearings, it remains to be seen if anything else is rattling around.
With some ideological mashup, Kavanaugh’s judicial record has been conservative in the main, reflecting views that could swing the court right on abortion, gay rights, executive power and more for decades to come.
Kavanaugh heads into the confirmation hearings, which begin Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, representing the hopes of President Donald Trump and the right that he will do just that.
Kavanaugh, who’s 53, has seen a steady career progression: law clerk for federal appeals judges, fellowship with then-Solicitor General Starr, law clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy (with Gorsuch), associate counsel in the Starr investigation, law-firm partner, Bush White House associate counsel, White House staff secretary, judge. He first dated Ashley Estes, then Bush’s personal secretary, Sept. 10, 2001; they married in 2004 and have two daughters.
He’s from a wealthy family — in 2005 his father earned just over $13 million in compensation and a send-off retirement package as president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, the national trade group for companies making personal care products.
But his own family’s finances are apparently modest.
Public disclosure forms for 2017 showed only two investments, together worth a maximum of $65,000, along with the balance on a loan of up to $15,000. As well, the White House said he had $45,000 to $150,000 of credit card debt in 2016, some of it from buying season tickets to the Washington Nationals for himself and several friends. That debt was paid off by last year, the White House said, and Kavanaugh was reimbursed for the friends’ tickets.
An Associated Press review of Kavanaugh’s dozen years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and his wider public record shows him opposed to a variety of regulations, on greenhouse gases and more. Yet he is deferential to the presidency, an approach that raises questions about whether he would protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia if that matter came before the high court.
AP’s review does not illuminate whether he would vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision establishing the right to abortion. But his record suggests he would vote to support restrictions.
He’s spoken admiringly of Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in that 1973 ruling, yet recently told a senator that Roe is settled law.
A more in-your-face — yet still nuanced — figure emerges in a recently released August 1998 memo to Starr urging that Clinton be asked blushingly explicit questions about his sexual interactions with intern Monica Lewinsky so as to understand a “pattern of revolting behavior” and give Congress more information to decide whether Clinton should remain president.
Yet in a memo later in 1998, he recommended the Starr investigation be brought to a close and its findings turned over to the next president.
And in 2009, he wrote in the Minnesota Law Review that the country would have been better off if investigators such as Starr and himself had let Clinton focus on Osama bin Laden and other issues of the day rather than become entangled in a criminal probe. Put off criminal investigation until a president is out of office, he suggested. “If the President does something dastardly, the impeachment process is available.”
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner, Mark Sherman and Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.