|Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit|
Assumed office |
May 30, 2006
|Appointed by||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Laurence Silberman|
|White House Staff Secretary|
June 6, 2003 – May 30, 2006
|President||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Harriet Miers|
|Succeeded by||Raul F. Yanes|
Brett Michael Kavanaugh|
February 12, 1965
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Ashley Estes (m. 2004)|
|Education||Yale University (BA, JD)|
Brett Michael Kavanaugh (born February 12, 1965) is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He previously was White House Staff Secretary during the presidency of George W. Bush. Kavanaugh has been nominated to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
As an attorney working for Ken Starr, Kavanaugh played a lead role in drafting the Starr Report, which urged the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Kavanaugh led the investigation into the suicide of Clinton aide Vince Foster. After the 2000 U.S. presidential election (in which Kavanaugh worked for the George W. Bush campaign in the Florida recount), Kavanaugh joined Bush's staff, where he led the Administration's effort to identify and confirm judicial nominees.
Kavanaugh was nominated to the Court of Appeals by President Bush in 2003. His confirmation hearings were contentious and stalled for three years over charges of partisanship. Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed in May 2006 after a series of negotiations between Democratic and Republican U.S. Senators.
On July 9, 2018, President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States following the vacancy created by the pending retirement of Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Kavanaugh was born on February 12, 1965, in Washington, D.C., and raised in Bethesda, Maryland, the son of Martha Gamble (Murphy) and Everett Edward Kavanaugh, Jr. His mother was a history teacher at Woodson and McKinley high schools in Washington in the 1960s and 1970s. She earned her law degree from Washington College of Law in 1978 and served as a Maryland state Circuit Court Judge from 1995 to 2001. His father was the president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association for two decades.
Kavanaugh was educated at the Jesuit university-preparatory school named Georgetown Preparatory School, where he was two years senior to future-Justice Neil Gorsuch. He then graduated from Yale College, B.A., 1987, and Yale Law School, J.D., 1990. There, he lived in a dilapidated group house with future-Judge James E. Boasberg and became a basketball partner of Professor George L. Priest, who was the sponsor of the school's Federalist Society. He was a Notes Editor for the Yale Law Journal.
Kavanaugh first worked as a law clerk for Judge Walter King Stapleton of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. During Kavanaugh's clerkship, Judge Stapleton wrote the majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the Third Circuit upheld many of Pennsylvania's abortion restrictions. Professor Priest recommended Kavanaugh to Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, who was regarded as a feeder judge. Kavanaugh recalled his time in Kozinski's chambers as demanding a very heavy workload but says he had no knowledge of the allegations against Kozinski of sexual harassment. Kavanaugh next interviewed with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, but he was not offered a clerkship.
Kavanaugh then earned a one-year fellowship with the Solicitor General of the United States, Ken Starr. Kavanaugh next clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, working alongside his high school classmate Neil Gorsuch and with future-Judge Gary Feinerman.
After his Supreme Court clerkship, Kavanaugh worked for Ken Starr again as an Associate Counsel in the Office of the Independent Counsel; in that capacity, he handled a number of the novel constitutional and legal issues presented during that investigation and was a principal author of the Starr Report to Congress on the Monica Lewinsky–Bill Clinton and Vincent Foster investigation. There, Kavanaugh argued on broad grounds for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. In Swidler & Berlin v. United States (1998), Kavanaugh argued his first and only case before the Supreme Court when he asked it to disregard attorney–client privilege in relation to the investigation of Foster's death. The Supreme Court rejected Kavanaugh's arguments by a vote of 6–3.
After George W. Bush became president in 2001, Kavanaugh was hired as an associate by the White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales. There, Kavanaugh worked on the Enron scandal, the successful nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, and the unsuccessful nomination of Miguel Estrada. Starting in 2003, he served as Assistant to the President and White House Staff Secretary. In that capacity, he was responsible for coordinating all documents to and from the president.
President George W. Bush first nominated Kavanaugh to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 25, 2003, to a vacancy created by Judge Laurence Silberman, who took senior status in November 2000. Kavanaugh's nomination was stalled in the Senate for nearly three years. Democratic Senators accused him of being too partisan, with Senator Dick Durbin calling him the "Forrest Gump of Republican politics". In 2003, the American Bar Association rated Kavanaugh as "well qualified", but, after opposition from Senate Democrats, rated him in 2006 as only "qualified".
The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary recommended confirmation on a 10–8 party-line vote on May 11, 2006, and Kavanaugh was thereafter confirmed to the court by the U.S. Senate on May 26, 2006, by a vote of 57–36. On June 1, 2006, he was sworn in by Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom he had previously clerked, during a special Rose Garden ceremony at the White House. Kavanaugh was the fourth judge nominated to the D.C. Circuit by Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate. Kavanaugh began hearing cases on September 11, 2006, and had his formal investiture on September 27 at the Prettyman Courthouse. His first published opinion was released on November 17, 2006. He authored the opinion of the court for a unanimous three-judge panel in the case of National Fuel Gas Supply Corp. v. FERC.
In July 2007, Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin accused Kavanaugh of "misleading" the Senate Judiciary Committee during his nomination. Durbin and Leahy accused Kavanaugh of lying to them in his confirmation hearing when he denied being involved in formulating the Bush administration's detention and interrogation policies in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. In 2002, Kavanaugh had met with other White House lawyers, and talked about whether or not the Supreme Court would approve of denying lawyers to prisoners detained as enemy combatants. Kavanaugh had previously been a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, and predicted in that meeting that Kennedy would not approve of denying legal counsel to those prisoners. Durbin said, "It appears that you misled me, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the nation." A spokesperson for Kavanaugh denied the accusations. This issue re-emerged in July 2018 as Kavanaugh was under consideration for a nomination to the Supreme Court, which Kavanaugh received.
The Supreme Court has adopted Kavanaugh's position on cases 13 times, and have reversed his position only once.
During his confirmation hearing in 2006 for the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh stated that he considered Roe v. Wade binding under the principle of stare decisis and would follow the ruling of the higher court. In a 2017 speech, Kavanaugh lauded Justice William Rehnquist for dissenting in Roe v. Wade, saying that Rehnquist believed an "unenumerated" right to abortion would have to be "rooted into the traditions and conscience of our people. Given the prevalence of abortion regulations both historically and at the time, Rehnquist said he could not reach such a conclusion about abortion."
In October 2017, Kavanaugh joined an unsigned divided panel opinion which found that the Office of Refugee Resettlement could prevent an unaccompanied alien minor in its custody from obtaining an abortion. Days later, the en banc D.C. Circuit reversed that judgment, with Kavanaugh as part of the dissent. Kavanaugh also wrote that “all parties to this case recognize Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey as precedents we must follow". The D.C. Circuit's opinion was then applied and the abortion was granted. A petition to the Supreme Court of the United States for a writ of certiorari to vacate the D.C. Circuit's ruling was then itself vacated as moot by the U.S. Supreme Court in Garza v. Hargan (2018).
In November 2011, Kavanaugh dissented in Seven-Sky v Holder when the D.C. Circuit upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), arguing that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. In his dissent concerning jurisdiction, he compared the individual mandate to a tax. After a unanimous panel found that the ACA did not violate the Constitution's Origination Clause in Sissel v. United States Department of Health & Human Services (2014), Kavanaugh wrote a lengthy dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc. In May 2015, Kavanaugh wrote a dissent when the en banc circuit refused to rehear rejected Religious Freedom Restoration Act claims by Priests for Life for an accommodations from the ACA's contraceptive mandate. In Zubik v. Burwell (2016), the Supreme Court vacated the circuit's judgment in a per curiam decision.
In August 2008, Kavanaugh dissented when the circuit found that the Constitution's Appointments Clause did not prevent the Sarbanes–Oxley Act from creating a board whose members were not directly removable by the President.  In Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (2010), the Supreme Court reversed the circuit’s judgment by a vote of 5–4.
In 2015, Kavanaugh found that those directly regulated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) could challenge the constitutionality of its design. In October 2016, Kavanaugh wrote for a divided panel finding that the CFPB's design was unconstitutional, and made the CFPB Director removable by the President of the United States. In January 2018, the en banc D.C. Circuit reversed that judgment by a vote of 7–3, over the dissent of Kavanaugh.
In 2013, Kavanaugh issued an extraordinary writ of mandamus requiring the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to process the license application of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, over the dissent of Judge Merrick Garland. After Kavanaugh wrote for a divided panel striking down a Clean Air Act regulation, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed 6–2 in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, L.P. (2014). Kavanaugh dissented from the denial of rehearing en banc of a unanimous panel opinion upholding the agency's regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and a fractured Supreme Court reversed 5 to 4 in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency (2014). After Judge Kavanaugh dissented from a per curiam decision allowing the agency to disregard cost–benefit analysis, the Supreme Court reversed 5–4 in Michigan v. EPA (2015).
In 2014, Kavanaugh concurred in the judgment when the en banc D.C. Circuit found that the Free Speech Clause did not forbid the government from requiring meatpackers to include a country of origin label on their products.
Jonathan Turley of George Washington University has stated that among the judges considered by Trump, "Kavanaugh has the most robust view of presidential powers and immunities. Brian Bennett writing for TIME magazine cites Kavanaugh's 2009 Minnesota Law Review article as defending the privilege of the President to immunity from prosecution during tenure in office.
In Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp. (2007), Kavanaugh dissented when the court found that an American oil company could be sued under the Alien Tort Statute for accusations of ExxonMobil human rights violations in Indonesia. In April 2009, Kavanaugh wrote a lengthy concurrence when the court found that Guantanamo detainees had no right to advanced notice before being transferred to another country. In Kiyemba v. Obama (2010), the Supreme Court vacated that judgment while refusing to review the matter. In June 2010, Kavanaugh wrote a concurrence in judgment when the en banc D.C. Circuit found that the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory owners could not bring a defamation suit regarding the government’s allegations that they were terrorists. In October 2012, Kavanaugh wrote for a unanimous court when it found that the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause forbid Salim Hamdan from being prosecuted under the Military Commission Act of 2006 on charges of providing material support for terrorism.
In August 2010, Kavanaugh wrote a lengthy concurrence when the en banc circuit refused to rehear Ghaleb Nassar Al Bihani’s rejected claims that the international law of war limits the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. In 2014, Kavanaugh concurred in the judgment when the en banc circuit found that Ali al-Bahlul could be retroactively convicted of war crimes, provided existing statute already made it a crime "because it does not alter the definition of the crime, the defenses or the punishment". In October 2016, Kavanaugh wrote the plurality opinion when the en banc circuit found al-Bahlul could be convicted by a military commission even if his offenses are not internationally recognized as war crimes under the law of war.
In Klayman v. Obama (2015), Kavanaugh wrote a concurrence when the circuit denied rehearing en banc, arguing that the government’s bulk metadata collection was constitutional. In Meshal v. Higgenbotham (2016), Kavanaugh concurred when the divided panel threw out a claim by an American that he had been disappeared by the FBI in a Kenyan black site.
In October 2011, Kavanaugh dissented when the circuit found that new gun control measures enacted in response to District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) did not violate the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. In February 2016, Kavanaugh dissented when the en banc circuit refused to rehear policer officers' rejected claims of qualified immunity for arresting partygoers in a vacant house. In District of Columbia v. Wesby (2018), the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the circuit's judgment.
On July 2, 2018, Kavanaugh was one of four U.S. Court of Appeals judges to receive a personal 45-minute interview by President Donald Trump as a potential replacement for Justice Anthony Kennedy. On July 9, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Kavanaugh for a seat on the Supreme Court.
Several academic studies that have attempted to measure judges based on their ideology or "Scalia-ness" have included Kavanaugh. Brian Bennett writing for TIME magazine in July 2018 indicated that Kavanaugh is recognized as "a stalwart originalist" in the tradition of Scalia and Thomas.
One study "derived ideology scores for the D.C. Circuit judges based on lawyers' (who practiced before these judges) perceptions of the judges' political preferences", with Kavanaugh ranked as the fifth (out of 11) most conservative judge on the court. The same study noted Kavanaugh's "ability to toe a moderate line while ruling predominantly conservatively", as well as "his moderately conservative behavior and his high level of agreement with the other judges on the circuit". The study further observed that "[c]ompared to the recent addition of Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court ... Judge Kavanaugh uses less originalist and textualist language in his opinions although he is well-versed in statutory interpretation."
FiveThirtyEight used Lee Epstein et al.'s Judicial Common Space scores (which are not based on a judge's behavior, but rather the ideology scores of either home state senators or the appointing president) to find that Kavanaugh would likely be more conservative than Justices Alito and Gorsuch, but less conservative than Justice Thomas, if placed on the Supreme Court. The Washington Post's statistical analysis estimated that the ideologies of most of Trump's announced candidates were "statistically indistinguishable" and placed Kavanaugh between Justices Gorsuch and Alito.
Since joining the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh taught full-term courses on Separation of Powers at Harvard Law School from 2008 to 2015, on the Supreme Court at Harvard Law School between 2014 and 2018, on National Security and Foreign Relations Law at Yale Law School in 2011, and on Constitutional Interpretation at Georgetown University Law Center in 2007. Kavanaugh has also been named the Samuel Williston Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School since 2009. Kavanaugh was hired as a visiting professor by Elena Kagan, who was then the dean of Harvard Law School in 2008 and according to The Boston Globe, quickly became a student favorite professor who was generous with his time and accessible. He would often dine in Cambridge with students and offer references and career advice.
In 2009, Kavanaugh wrote an article for the Minnesota Law Review in which he argued that Congress should exempt U.S. presidents from civil lawsuits while in office because, among other things, such lawsuits could be "time-consuming and distracting" for the president and would thus "ill serve the public interest, especially in times of financial or national security crisis." Kavanaugh argued that if a president "does something dastardly", that president may be impeached by the House of Representatives, convicted by the Senate, and criminally prosecuted after leaving office. The US would have been better off if president Clinton "could have focused on Osama bin Laden without being distracted by the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and its criminal investigation offshoots". This article garnered attention in 2018 when Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump, whose 2016 presidential campaign is the subject of an ongoing federal probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
When reviewing a book on statutory interpretation by Second Circuit Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, Kavanaugh observed that judges often cannot agree on a statute if its text is ambiguous. To remedy this, Kavanaugh encouraged judges to first seek the "best reading" of the statute, through "interpreting the words of the statute" as well as the context of the statute as a whole, and only then apply other interpretive techniques that may justify an interpretation that differs from the "best meaning" such as constitutional avoidance, legislative history, and Chevron deference.
Kavanaugh had his first date with his future wife Ashley Estes, then-personal secretary to President George W. Bush, on September 10, 2001. They were among the occupants of the White House evacuated during the September 11 attacks.
In early 2006, Kavanaugh and his wife bought a $1.2 million home in Chevy Chase Section Five, Maryland. In 2018, Kavanaugh reported that he earned a $220,000 salary as a federal judge and $27,000 as a lecturer at Harvard Law School during the previous year. In 2016, when Kavanaugh purchased season and playoff tickets for himself and friends to Washington Nationals games, he reported between $15,000 and $50,000 in debt on each of three cr cards and a bank loan. In 2017, Kavanaugh reported that those debts had been paid off and that his friends had reimbursed him for their ticket costs.
Kavanaugh is a Catholic and serves as a regular lector at his Washington, D.C. church, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. He has helped serve meals to the homeless as part of church programs, and has tutored at the Washington Jesuit Academy, a Catholic private school in the District of Columbia.
Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, gave a revealing speech last fall in which he lauded former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist for having dissented in Roe vs. Wade and for rejecting the notion of “a wall of separation between church and state.”
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| White House Staff Secretary
Raul F. Yanes
| Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit