High court pick Kavanaugh and his carefully constructed life
By CALVIN WOODWARD
WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 dean of the law school, 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 Senate hearings that begin Tuesday, it remains to be seen if anything else is rattling around.
To critics, like Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee lining up to question him, Kavanaugh’s collegial disposition is “Much Ado About Nothing” (Kavanaugh’s 2012 mock trial for Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, Ginsburg presiding).
“From the notorious Starr report, to the Florida recount, to the president’s secrecy and privilege claims to post-9/11 legislative battles including the Victims Compensation Fund, to ideological judicial nomination fights, if there has been a partisan political fight that needed a very bright legal foot soldier in the last decade, Brett Kavanaugh was probably there,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, now Senate Democratic leader, said in 2006 hearings that preceded Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
His judicial record since? With some ideological mashup, it’s 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 hothouse of confirmation hearings representing the hopes of President Donald Trump and the right that he will do just that. One question from senators, whether expressed or implied, will be how far the apple fell from the tree.
HIS FATHER’S SON?
E. Edward Kavanaugh, 77, was a fixture in the Washington influence game years before Trump began calling it a swamp. Brett Kavanaugh’s dad lobbied for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, the national trade group for companies making personal care products.
He fought against government regulation and advocates who wanted cosmetics-testing stopped on animals, calling those activists “zealots who cannot comprehend that a child’s life is more important than a dog’s.”
“He is known by my colleagues in Congress as a straight shooter,” Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said of Brett Kavanaugh’s father in supporting the son’s confirmation as a federal judge in 2006. “In this case, the apple did not fall far from the tree.”
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who tangled with the dad in hearings over potential health risks of cosmetics, finds the son’s record on regulation also troubling. “You don’t have to look at his genes,” Wyden told The Associated Press. “Just look at his record.”
An AP review of Kavanaugh’s dozen years on the D.C. appeals court and his wider public record shows him opposed to a variety of regulations, on greenhouse gases and more, as well as to the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau established after the 2008 financial crisis, and to administration policies that circumvent Congress and risk “a runaway executive branch.” 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.
His mother, Martha Kavanaugh, went on to become a prosecutor and state judge in Maryland, where Kavanaugh was raised as an only child, attending Georgetown Preparatory School as Gorsuch did.
UP THE LADDER
Brett Michael Kavanaugh’s career progression: law clerk for federal appeals judges, fellowship with then-Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, law clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy (with high-school classmate 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, on 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 the cosmetic group’s president. 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.