President Trump confirmed that his nominee to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court will be 53-year-old appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh, the long-reputed frontrunner. The White House managed to keep Trump's pick a secret until roughly 8 minutes before the President's planned announcement, when NBC News confirmed that Kavanaugh had clinched the nomination.
As Trump pointed out, a dozen of Kavanaugh's 300 DC Circuit opinions have been adopted by the Supreme Court. "There is no one in America more qualified for this position or more deserving." During his remarks, Kavanaugh said his judicial philosophy is straighforward. A judge must interpret the law, not make the law, and interpret the constitution as written. Kavanaugh went to Yale and Yale Law and clerked for Kennedy on the Supreme Court, where he reportedly first met Neil Gorsuch, Trump's first SCOTUS nominee.
As Bloomberg points out, expect a lot of focus on Kavanaugh's 2009 paper arguing that a president shouldn't have to face the distractions of criminal prosecutions and lawsuits while president. Kavanaugh could cast the deciding vote on whether Trump must cooperate with a grand jury subpoena from Robert Mueller. Already, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal is telling reporters that he would ask Kavanaugh to recuse himself from cases related to the Mueller probe.
While he reportedly faced opposition from some social conservatives over his ties to former President George W Bush, Kavanaugh benefited from a lengthy history of conservative rulings (he’s served in his current role as circuit judge for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia since 2006) and the support of White House counsel Don McGahn III, who was tasked with leading the search. Though his rulings on some issues - notably Obamacare - have been seen as controversial by some.
If confirmed, Kavanaugh could trigger a historic shift in the balance of power, creating one of the most conservative courts in generations. This could in turn shift to the right the Court's position on issues including abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, the death penalty and federal regulatory power, according to Bloomberg. He faced stiff opposition from Democrats when he was nominated by Bush in 2006 for the appeals court. His pro-business bona fides including being the only dissenting voice when health insurer Anthem appealed a lower court's rejection of its attempted merger with Cigna.
Democrats said Kavanaugh was too partisan to become a judge. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, now the Democratic leader, called Kavanaugh a "very bright legal foot soldier." He was eventually confirmed in 2006.
On the appeals court, Kavanaugh has largely been a foe of government regulation, voting to strike down rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama. He expressed doubt about Obama’s Clean Power Plan, though the appeals court never ruled on the issue.
Kavanaugh also said he would have thrown out the Obama-era net neutrality rule, which barred internet service providers from slowing or blocking rivals’ content. He voted to give the president the power to fire the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for any reason.
Kavanaugh voted to throw out a constitutional challenge to Obamacare in 2011 but left open the possibility the law could be overturned later. He said his colleagues’ decision to uphold the law, and its requirement to either buy insurance or pay a penalty, offered "no real limiting principle" and would have "extraordinary ramifications."
Although he hasn’t ruled directly on abortion rights, he sided with the Trump administration in a fight with an undocumented teenager seeking to end her pregnancy while in federal custody.
In a dissenting opinion, Kavanaugh said he would have blocked the girl, who was 15 weeks pregnant, from having an abortion for at least another week. The government said it was trying to find a sponsor for the girl so that officials wouldn’t have to "facilitate" her trip to an abortion clinic. The girl later had the procedure.
According to one measure cited by Axios, Kavanaugh would be the second-most conservative justice on the court.
Kavanaugh is also widely known for the fact that he drafted much of the Starr Report, which led to Bill Clinton's impeachment, and also included graphic details about sexual acts with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Trump’s nomination has set in motion what could be a weekslong confirmation process as Republicans struggle with an precariously flimsy majority of one (thanks to Sen. John McCain’s expected absence due to illness). As the Wall Street Journal points out, both pro- and anti-choice groups are planning millions of dollars in ad buys targeting the states of potential swing voters on both sides of the aisle. According to Marc Short, the Whtie House legislative director, Kavanaugh is expected to be confirmed by Oct. 1. Though given the high stakes and the number of opinions Kavanaugh has authored, Democrats could try to stretch it out until after the mid-terms.
Unsurprisingly, the RNC cheered Kavanaugh's nomination, calling him a "champion of the rule of law."
The NRA also hailed him as "a fantastic pick." But at least one swing-vote Republican refused to outright endorse him: Susan Collins said only that Kavanaugh had "impressive credentials."