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Why Donald Trump Nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court

 |  July 10, 2018

Posted by The New Yorker

Why Donald Trump Nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court

By Amy Davidson Sorkin

Donald Trump walked into the East Room of the White House alone at just past 9 pm, stretching the suspense surrounding his Supreme Court pick about as far as he could. It was Judge Brett Kavanaugh, of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, who, if confirmed, should in the years to come please conservatives of several varieties—but first Trump wanted to talk about Trump for a few minutes. Choosing a Supreme Court Justice was “one of the most profound responsibilities of the President of the United States,” the most important “other than matters of war and peace.” He paused to congratulate himself for choosing Neil Gorsuch, last year, to fill the seat that opened when “the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia” died (and, though Trump didn’t mention it, was kept open through the machinations of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell); to acknowledge Scalia’s widow, Maureen, who was in the crowd; to thank Justice Anthony Kennedy for retiring; and to invoke Ronald Reagan while offering a line that, when it comes to today’s Supreme Court, can only be called an utter falsehood: “What matters is not a judge’s political views.”

Kavanaugh’s politics matter, in terms of his appointment. His name was on a list of potential nominees, vetted by the Federalist Society, that Trump had waved in front of conservative groups, promising that he wouldn’t let them down—that he’d swap Kennedy’s swing vote for a reliable one. This was the sham behind the drumbeat of suspense: some people might have been rooting for, say, Judge Amy Coney Barrett or Judge Thomas Hardiman, but there never was going to be a true stealth candidate in this race, let alone an ideological outlier. (Jeffrey Toobin has written about how the list came to be.) And, assuming that Kavanaugh takes the bench this fall, when he will be just fifty-three years old, his political views will matter for decades to come.

It is a decent bet that he will be on the Court, despite the outrage of the Democrats and the slimness of the Republican majority in the Senate (just fifty to forty-nine, assuming that John McCain is too ill to travel for a vote). After Kavanaugh walked into the East Room with his wife, Ashley, and his young daughters, Margaret and Liza, and Trump, in lieu of a fanfare, recited his credentials (“teaches at Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown!”), the judge gave what sounded like the opening statement in a confirmation hearing. He was proud that the majority of his clerks have been women, and that his daughter’s basketball team had won a city championship; he would uphold the independence of the judiciary and interpret the Constitution “as written, informed by history, and tradition, and precedent.” What that means, though, is not much of a mystery, because Kavanaugh, who has been a federal appeals-court judge for a decade, has written plenty himself.

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