Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced July 9 that his nominee for the Supreme Court is Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington and a Catholic who once clerked for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
“What matters is not a judge’s personal views but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and the Constitution require,” Trump said in his announcement at the White House, adding: “I am pleased to say I have found, without doubt, such a person.”
He said the nominee has “impeccable credentials” and is “considered a judge’s judge.”
“I am grateful to you and I am humbled by your confidence in me,” said Kavanaugh, who was standing near his wife and two daughters.
Kavanaugh spoke about his Catholic faith, saying he tries to live by the motto instilled in him by his Jesuit high school: “be men for others.” Kavanaugh, like Justice Neil Gorsuch, attended Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit boys school in Maryland. He also pointed out that his former pastor, Msgr. John Enzler, was in the audience. He said he he used to be an altar boy for him and now the two serve the homeless together. The priest is the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Washington. Kavanaugh also gave a shoutout to the girls basketball team at his parish which he coaches. He said the team has nicknamed him “Coach K,” the name given to Duke basketball’s head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
He also told the group gathered the East Room of the White House that he is “part of the vibrant Catholic community in the D.C. area,” and added that “members of that community disagree about many things, but we are united in our commitment to serve.”
Kavanaugh said if he is chosen to be on the Supreme Court, he would “keep an open mind in every case” and “always strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law.” He would also be the 14th Catholic to serve on the Supreme Court.
Immediately after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement June 27, Trump said he would move quickly to nominate a replacement, saying he would review a list of candidates from the list he had to fill the seat now held by Gorsuch after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Kennedy is one of five Catholic justices on the Supreme Court along with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor.
Kavanaugh, 53, is a Yale Law School graduate who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where he has authored more than 280 opinions. He was part of the Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigation, which ultimately led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment by the House and acquittal by the Senate.
His biography on the court website notes that he is a regular lector at his church, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington. He also volunteers for the St. Maria’s Meals program at Catholic Charities, has coached CYO, tutors at the Washington Jesuit Academy and belongs to the John Carroll Society, a group of Catholic lawyers and professionals.
He dissented from a recent ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that a teenager in an immigrant detention center was entitled to seek an abortion. He claimed the decision would give immigrant minors a right to “immediate abortion on demand,” but urged the government to transfer her to private custody so she could do “as she wished.”
Kavanaugh also dissented from a majority decision of the D.C. Circuit that rejected a request from the Archdiocese of Washington and Priests for Life to have the full court review their challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.
He said that “the regulations substantially burden the religious organizations’ exercise of religion because the regulations require the organizations to take an action contrary to their sincere religious beliefs.” But he also wrote that the government “has a compelling interest in facilitating access to contraception for the employees of these religious organizations” and should “achieve it in other ways.”
Two of the other judges reported to be top picks as nominees are also Catholic: Judges Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman. Judge Amul Thapar, on a broader top list, is also Catholic.
The nominee must be confirmed by the Senate in order to have a seat on the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings questioning the nominee and if the committee approves, a vote for or against the nominee goes to the full Senate floor and must be approved with a simple majority or 51 votes.
Reaction to Kavanaugh’s nomination was pretty much divided along party lines.
Sarah Pitlyk, Kavanaugh’s former law clerk, praised Trump’s selection. She is special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a national nonprofit law firm dedicated to causes related to life, the family and religious liberty.
“Judge Kavanaugh has a clear, consistent and solid record on the issues that matter most to social conservatives. He has repeatedly taken conservative stands and has fearlessly defended his textualist and originalist philosophy,” she said in a July 10 statement.
“He is a good and decent man who will never waver in the face of pressure from any quarters. He is exactly what constitutional conservatives want on the Supreme Court,” she added.
The Catholic Democrats organization was not pleased with Trump’s choice, saying that if he is confirmed, he would make the court “significantly more conservative.”
In a July 10 statement, it said they had “grave concerns” about Kavanaugh, primarily because he was on a list of 25 judges compiled by the Federalist Society, which the Catholic Democrats describe as a group that “advances a conservative ideology that devalues civil rights, labor rights, environmental protection, gun safety, and federalism while advancing business interests.”
“No one can predict precisely how Judge Kavanaugh will vote, but the Federalist Society’s stamp of approval and his judicial record tell us that he will likely advance a pro-business agenda at the expense of workers and the most vulnerable in our society,” said James Roosevelt Jr., a board member of Catholic Democrats.
Initial reactions to Kavanaugh’s nomination were somewhat muted from some who felt another top nominee, Barrett, would do more to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
The National Right to Life Committee tweeted a note of thanks to Trump after the nominee was announced, and the Susan B. Anthony List, a nonprofit group that seeks to end abortion by supporting pro-life candidates, described Kavanaugh as an “outstanding choice.”
Catholics who have served on the Supreme Court
If Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he will become the 14th Roman Catholic to serve on the court. The following Catholics have served or are serving:
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, 1836-1864
Chief Justice Edward D. White, 1910-1921 (served as a justice 1894-1910)
Justice Joseph McKenna, 1898-1925
Justice Pierce Butler, 1923-1929
Justice Frank Murphy, 1940-1949
Justice Sherman Minton, 1949-1956
Justice William J. Brennan Jr., 1956-1990
Justice Antonin Scalia, 1986-2016
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, 1988-2018
Justice Clarence Thomas, 1991-Present
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, 2005-Present
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., 2006-Present
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 2009-Present