Judge Raymond Kethledge speaking at the Federalist Society’s 2016 National Lawyers Convention. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi/ ALM

Potential U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Raymond Kethledge checks most of the boxes on qualifications of recent high court nominees, but those traits don’t reveal a judge who seeks solitude in nature, loves to write and handles a rifle just as well as a fishing rod.

Kethledge, 51, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and Brett Kavanaugh of  the D.C. Circuit are reportedly the two leading contenders to succeed Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement last week. Both judges are former clerks to Kennedy. Other contenders include Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the Seventh Circuit, and Amul Thapar, who also sits on the Sixth Circuit.

Although Kethledge has been described by some as an originalist, a recent academic study measuring the “Scalia-ness” of Trump’s short list of potential high court nominees and the current justices ranked Kethledge 14th of 20 examined.

Trump is expected to announce his nominee Monday night. What follows are some “out of the box” insights into Kethledge.

➤➤ Kethledge is an outdoorsman, a hunter and fisherman. He has a “barn office” in northern Michigan in a forested area that overlooks Lake Huron. The office has no internet, no HVAC, but does have a wood stove, a landline and a pine desk where he writes. Kethledge graduated from the University of Michigan School of Law. At the Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, himself a fly fisherman and outdoorsman, has an elk—named Leroy—mounted on a wall. The late Antonin Scalia shot the elk on a hunting trip.

➤➤ The judge writes his own opinions, from start to finish—unusual at the federal appeals court level, where law clerks often do much of the drafting. He was recognized for “exemplary legal writing” by the Green Bag almanac in 2013 and 2017. “First, I think judges should do their own work. Second, as with Eisenhower writing memos to himself, the process of writing makes me think so much harder about the subject than just editing does,” Kethledge once said. “I have more insights about the case or doctrine when I go through the agony of writing the opinion myself.”

➤➤ Kethledge has been a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights. At a 2016 Federalist Society discussion, Kethledge said “the lower courts have not been faithfully applying Heller, as to methodology and also as to sort of the rigor of their scrutiny.” He was referring to the 2008 Supreme Court decision D.C. v. Heller, which declared an individual right to bear arms. Justice Clarence Thomas has decried the Supreme Court’s hesitation in recent years to take up firearms cases, calling the Second Amendment a “constitutional orphan.”

➤➤ Kethledge wrote a book—”Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude”—about the importance of solitude as an element of leadership. His co-author, Michael Erwin, is a graduate of West Point and a combat veteran whose brother-in-law clerked for Kethledge and introduced the two men. The book includes profiles of historical and contemporary figures who used solitude to lead in a variety of life choices.

➤➤ The judge describes himself as a “strong introvert,” a description that Justice Clarence Thomas often has applied to himself. His book on solitude says: “Ray found solitude, as a law student, during solo camping trips in the forests of northern Michigan, fishing in the streams there. As a law clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy, Ray walked alone around the Capitol and Supreme Court building when thinking through a case.”

 

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