Brett Kavanaugh, who was heading toward Senate confirmation at press time, would be one of five Catholic justices on today’s Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh, 53, until recently had been a judge on the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. If confirmed, he will succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy, also a Catholic, who was often a swing vote in many of the high court’s closely decided decisions.
During the heated question-and-answer exchanges during September’s confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh’s mere use of the phrase “abortion-inducing drugs” was enough to incense abortion advocates. But when all was said and done, the hearings didn’t alter his trajectory.
In introducing Kavanaugh during a White House press event on July 9, President Donald Trump praised him as “a brilliant jurist” with “impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications, and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law.”
A JUDGE WITH GREAT DISTINCTION
“For the last 12 years, he has served as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — with great distinction — authoring over 300 opinions, which have been widely admired for their skill, insight, and rigorous adherence to the law,” President Trump said.
Kavanaugh has served on the D.C. Circuit Court since being confirmed 53-36 by the Senate in 2006. Prior to that, he clerked for Kennedy and served as a staff secretary and senior associate counsel for President George W. Bush.
Legal commentators have described Kavanaugh as a well-respected federal judge with a philosophy of interpreting the Constitution as it is written.
“He’s a person of the highest intellect, very much in the mode of Neil Gorsuch,” said Robert George, a constitutional scholar and the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, referencing Trump’s first appointment to the Supreme Court.
In a conference call with reporters shortly after the president announced Kavanaugh’s nomination, Marjorie Dannenfelser — Legate and president of the Susan B. Anthony List — welcomed the news as a positive step for the pro-life movement.
“We have a man who’s devoted to interpreting the text of the Constitution as it is written and as it applies to today’s debate,” Dannenfelser said.
WINDOW TO HIS APPROACH
Some of his rulings from the D.C. appellate bench offer a window into Kavanaugh’s approach. In 2017, Kavanaugh dissented from an appeals- court vote to allow an undocumented pregnant 17-year-old in immigration detention to seek an abortion. He said the majority decision represented “a radical extension of the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence.”
In the 2015 case of Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kavanaugh said the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans violated the religious freedom of religious nonprofits.
“My judicial philosophy is straightforward,” Kavanaugh said from the White House on July 9. “A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written. And a judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent.”
In addition to being a respected conservative jurist, Kavanaugh is also a practicing Catholic who serves meals to the homeless as a volunteer for Catholic Charities and coaches CYO basketball in the Washington, D.C., area.
“I am part of the vibrant Catholic community in the D.C. area. The members of that community disagree about many things, but we are united in our commitment to serve,” Kavanaugh said at the White House.
Kavanaugh is a former altar boy who graduated from the Jesuit-run Georgetown Preparatory School near Washington, D.C. before attending Yale Law School. He has also taught law, primarily at Harvard Law School.
In his White House remarks, Kavanaugh, a married father of two daughters, emphasized that his Catholic high school’s motto was “Men for Others.”
Said Kavanaugh, “I’ve tried to live that creed.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.