President Donald Trump’s next Supreme Court pick — announced Monday night at a White House address — is an appellate judge from Maryland whose work on the Starr Report drew the ire of Democrats when President George W. Bush nominated him for the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Brett M. Kavanaugh, who grew up in Bethesda, serves on the federal appeals court in D.C.
A longtime protege of Kenneth Starr, Kavanaugh had been on the White House’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees in November when the president selected Neil Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia.
Pundits had suggested the top contenders for the role were Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman — all federal appeals judges.
Kavanaugh, 53, made a name for himself in the 1990s during two Clinton-era scandals. He led the Whitewater independent counsel's inquiry into the death of Clinton White House counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr. and later wrote much of the Starr Report — which included graphic details about then-President Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
Kavanaugh also argued unsuccessfully before the Supreme Court that attorney-client privilege did not apply to Foster after his death by suicide. Conspiracy theorists, including Trump, have suggested that Foster might have been murdered because he knew information that would implicate the Clintons. Foster’s brother lashed out against that insinuation in 2016.
Under Bush, Kavanaugh was a top White House lawyer. In 2003, Bush appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Democrats stalled his nomination for three years before he was eventually appointed.
During one of his initial confirmation hearings in 2004, New York Senator Chuck Schumer said, “Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit is not just a drop of salt in the partisan wounds, it is the whole shaker.”
However, Kavanaugh rejected the notion that he, or any judge, is partisan. “I firmly disagree with the notion that there are Republican judges and [Democratic] judges,” he said. “There is one kind of judge. There is an independent judge under our Constitution.”
The judge grew up in Bethesda and attended Georgetown Preparatory School as well as Yale University and Yale Law School. He later clerked for Kennedy on the Supreme Court and is a friend of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
On the Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh has frequently provided a conservative opinion. In 2017, he was among three dissenting judges on a decision that allowed an immigrant teenager to get an abortion. At the time, he said the majority had "badly erred" and created a new right for undocumented immigrant minors in custody to "immediate abortion on demand."
Another decision swept aside a key pillar of Maryland's plan to reduce soot and smog. In 2012, Kavanaugh formed part of a panel that said the Environmental Protection Agency had overstepped its authority with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, also known as the "good neighbor rule." The decision struck down a federal rule aimed at limiting air pollution crossing from one state to another.
But not all his decisions have fallen neatly within party lines. In 2011, he said the court could not call Obamacare’s health insurance mandate unconstitutional until it had actually gone into effect.
Kavanaugh is married to Ashley Kavanaugh, the town manager of the Village of Chevy Chase. They have two daughters. He is active in a number of Catholic organizations and is a lector and parishioner at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Washington, according to his online biography.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.