Justice Brett Kavanaugh

Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the U.S. Supreme Court on October 6, 2018, replacing  Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh was born in Washington, D.C. on February 12, 1965. He attended Georgetown Preparatory School, which fellow Justice Neil Gorsuch also attended. Kavanaugh then graduated cum laude from Yale University in 1987, majoring in history. He stayed in New Haven to attend Yale Law School, where he served on the Yale Law Journal.

After graduating from Yale Law School in 1990, Kavanaugh held several clerkships in federal courts. First, he clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1990-1991 and on the Ninth Circuit in 1991-1992. Following a fellowship with the U.S. Solicitor General, Kavanaugh clerked for Justice Kennedy (whom he would eventually replace) on the Supreme Court from 1993-1994. He then served as an Associate Counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. He contributed to the 1998 Starr Report that urged the impeachment of President Bill Clinton due to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

In the wake of the 2000 presidential election, Kavanaugh joined the legal effort to stop the Florida recount and preserve the victory of George W. Bush. He then served in the White House Counsel’s Office and as Staff Secretary during the Bush administration. Bush nominated Kavanaugh to the D.C. Circuit in July 2003. The Senate did not confirm him until May 2006, though. Kavanaugh served on the D.C. Circuit for over a decade before Republican President Donald Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court on July 10, 2018. His confirmation hearings began on September 4 and were especially contentious. The most controversial issue involved allegations of sexual misconduct when he was a teenager.

After holding a hearing to address this issue on September 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate on the next day. The Senate confirmed him by a 50-48 vote on October 6, dividing almost precisely along party lines. This was the narrowest confirmation vote of a Supreme Court Justice since the 19th century.

Kavanaugh has been described as the “median Justice” on the Supreme Court. This means that there are four Justices who are more liberal than him and four Justices who are more conservative. However, Kavanaugh is clearly a conservative jurist, so calling him the “median Justice” says less about his views than about the conservative dominance of the current Court. In June 2022, for example, Kavanaugh voted with four other conservative Justices to strike down Roe v. Wade, declining to join Chief Justice Roberts in a more moderate position.

Before the decision overturning Roe was released, but after the majority opinion was leaked to the public, Kavanaugh was the target of an assassination plot. The would-be assassin, Nicholas John Roske, traveled from Southern California to Kavanaugh’s home near Washington, D.C. with a pistol, ammunition, and other weapons. However, Roske called the police on himself after seeing U.S. Marshals stationed outside the home. He was indicted for attempted murder of a Justice of the United States.

Selected Opinions by Justice Kavanaugh:

U.S. v. Texas (2023)

Topic: Role of Courts

Federal courts cannot effectively order the executive branch to take enforcement actions against violators of federal law.

American Hospital Ass'n v. Becerra (2022)

Topic: Government Agencies

There is a strong presumption in favor of judicial review of final agency action. This is traditionally available unless a statute's language or structure precludes judicial review.

TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez (2021)

Topic: Role of Courts

Only plaintiffs concretely harmed by a defendant's statutory violation have Article III standing to seek damages against that private defendant in federal court.

FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project (2021)

Topic: Government Agencies

The Administrative Procedure Act imposes no general obligation on agencies to conduct or commission their own empirical or statistical studies.

Jones v. Mississippi (2021)

Topic: Death Penalty & Criminal Sentencing

A sentencer need not make a separate factual finding of permanent incorrigibility before sentencing a murderer under 18 to life without parole.

Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck (2019)

Topic: Free Speech

When a private entity operates public access channels on a cable system, it is not performing a traditional, exclusive public function, and it is not transformed into a state actor by opening its property for speech by others. Thus, it is not subject to First Amendment constraints on its editorial discretion.