From the outset of the Trump administration’s search for a U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was a frontrunner based on his conservative credentials and long service on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Kavanaugh is among the would-be nominees who’ve reportedly spoken with President Donald Trump, who expects to announce on July 9 his pick to succeed the retiring Anthony Kennedy.
Kavanaugh’s spoken regularly to law students and at various law-themed events over the years, telling audiences about his experience in the George W. Bush White House and about his time on the D.C. Circuit. He’s shared his approach to judging and opened up about his law school days, including the house he lived in as a Yale Law School student that was “so nasty that all the college frats had turned it down as unsanitary.”
What follows are highlights from some of Kavanaugh’s remarks, recorded on video, over the years.
‘Don’t Be a Jerk’
“To be a good umpire and a good judge, don’t be a jerk. In your opinions, to demonstrate civility—to show, to help display, that you’re trying to make the decision impartially, dispassionately, based on the law and not based on your emotions. We’re not bigger than the game.” [Columbus School of Law, 2015]
‘Sunrise Side of the Mountain’
“Be optimistic, see the day coming, not the day that has gone. This was a favorite saying of George W. Bush’s. I worked for him for five-and-a-half years. Love the guy. At graduations, he would say, ‘For those of you who’ve won honors, awards and distinctions, well done. And for the C students, you too can be president of the United States.’ President Bush lives on the sunrise side of the mountain. That’s the place to live. Be the optimist, the happy warrior. Do not get beaten down.” [Columbus School of Law, June 2018]
‘Fortitude to Say No’
“As Gen. [Edwin] Meese knows well, you don’t forget your confirmation process. And my process was interesting—I think that’s a good word for it. Interesting because I was serving in the White House when I was nominated for the judgeship. I had worked there for five-and-a-half years before I became a judge. And actually standing here today, some 12 years later, let me say first that I think the White House experience made me a far better judge than I otherwise would’ve been, in terms of understanding of government, of the legislative process, of the regulatory process, of national security decision-making, the pressure, the ups and downs and the ins and outs of how our government operates at the very highest level. I believe my White House experience made me a more knowledgeable judge, certainly, and also a more independent judge—independent because working at the White House, at least in my view, helps give you the backbone and fortitude to say no to the government when the stakes are high.” [Heritage Foundation, 2017]
PB&J Days at the D.C. Circuit
“Developing relationships with other judges on the court is really one of the great aspects of being on this court or being on any court and learning about their backgrounds. Of course we don’t talk about any pending cases. Still after a reversal of the district court, the court of appeals judges tend to avoid the lunchroom for a few days, because you can imagine how the conversation goes when you ask the U.S. district judge, ‘How’s your day going?’ and the district judge says, “Did you have to say I abused my discretion? Did you have to say I didn’t just err—I clearly erred?” No. So those days of peanut butter and jelly work just fine.” [Case Western Reserve, 2013]