November 11, 2019

Kavanaugh Returns to Spotlight a Year After Nasty Senate Fight
(Bloomberg) -- Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has done his best to keep a low profile in the 13 months since one of the most polarizing Senate confirmation fights in U.S. history.From the bench, his questions have been evenhanded and his opinions have been measured. His public appearances have been rare.But Kavanaugh will be back in the spotlight when he gives the featured dinner speech on Thursday at the annual Washington convention of the Federalist Society, the powerful conservative legal group that helped put him on the court.The appearance, in front of an organization Kavanaugh joined in 1988 as a law student, will offer a reminder of his professional roots and help showcase the group’s success in helping load the federal courts with conservative judges -- one of President Donald Trump’s signature achievements.It will also provide a fresh indication of how the Supreme Court’s most controversial justice will navigate the raw feelings that remain after his nomination by Trump and narrow Senate confirmation in the face of sexual assault allegations.About 2,300 people are expected to attend the Antonin Scalia Memorial Dinner, a black-tie-optional event that brings legal luminaries to the cavernous Main Hall of Washington’s Union Station every year. The event will be open to the media, though broadcast coverage will be prohibited.When many Americans last saw Kavanaugh, he was at his Senate confirmation hearing angrily and tearfully denying that he had assaulted Christine Blasey Ford decades ago when both were teenagers.“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election,” Kavanaugh said, with rage that would later be lampooned by actor Matt Damon on “Saturday Night Live.”He was confirmed on a 50-48 vote.‘Gracious’ JusticeThat Brett Kavanaugh bears little resemblance to the one who now sits at one end of the Supreme Court bench, seen only by the few hundred people who typically attend its camera-free argument sessions.Kavanaugh tends to politely challenge both sides during arguments, almost always without tipping his hand on his own views. He often chats amicably with Justice Elena Kagan, who sits to his right and seems to have far more to discuss with him than with Justice Samuel Alito on her other side.“He seems quite comfortable,” said Carter Phillips, a veteran Supreme Court lawyer at Sidley Austin. “He’s very gracious, extremely well-prepared. His questions are good.”Kavanaugh’s written opinions have generally been measured. Though he has almost always voted with his conservative colleagues when the court splits along ideological lines, he has eschewed the sweeping rhetoric of Trump’s other Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch. On occasion, Kavanaugh has written separate opinions to describe his position as a limited one.“He appears more cautious and pragmatic than Gorsuch, but it’s too early to tell too much,” said Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.Kavanaugh’s colleagues have publicly welcomed him and said they don’t harbor any ill feelings.“We are all human beings, we all have pasts,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told a judicial conference in September, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Now whether things occurred or didn’t occur, all of that is irrelevant.”Female ClerksJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg praised Kavanaugh for hiring four women to serve as his law clerks for his first term, something no justice had done in any term.That decision is as close as Kavanaugh has come to publicly addressing the confirmation controversy since he joined the court.“It was all women, and I think that was not coincidental,” said Melissa Murray, a New York University law professor who testified during the confirmation hearing that she was concerned Kavanaugh would vote to overturn abortion rights. “I think it was intended to be a rebuttal to those who believe those allegations, took those allegations seriously. I think he wanted to sort of counteract the perception that might have been left after the confirmation hearing.”For the public at large, Kavanaugh remains a polarizing figure -- far more so than his longer-serving colleagues. A Marquette Law School poll conducted in September found that 32% of respondents had an unfavorable view of Kavanaugh, with 26% holding a favorable view. No other justice had an unfavorable rating higher than 23%.Though he has met privately with smaller groups, the Federalist Society speech will mark only the second time Kavanaugh has spoken publicly outside the court since the White House ceremony that followed his October 2018 confirmation. Kavanaugh appeared in May with the man he succeeded, Justice Anthony Kennedy, before a conference of judges and lawyers.Standing OvationKavanaugh’s reception at the Federalist Society event is all but certain to be positive, probably overwhelmingly so, though it’s possible he’ll face protests.“I expect he’ll get a very warm reception,” said Adler, a Federalist Society member who plans to attend.Kavanaugh got a lengthy standing ovation when he arrived for last year’s dinner, which took place less than six weeks after the Senate vote. He opted not to give a talk at that event, instead agreeing to speak this year, according to two people familiar with the planning.The Federalist Society’s executive vice president, Leonard Leo, has served as a key adviser to Trump on judicial nominations. Leo declined to be interviewed about Kavanaugh’s work on the court, saying he generally doesn’t comment on individual justices.The dinner is part of a three-day program that features speeches by Gorsuch and Attorney General Bill Barr as well as panel discussions on a plethora of legal topics.“I think it is meaningful that he’s choosing to make a debut of sorts at this particular venue,” Murray said.Chances are Kavanaugh’s speech will steer clear of any discussion of the confirmation controversy. He probably will at least touch on the judicial philosophy that made him a Federalist Society favorite in the first place. He might show the side of himself that promised at his confirmation hearing to be part of a “team of nine” on the court.“I think it will be different than it was in his last public appearance,” said Phillips with a laugh. “He is by nature a gracious and even-tempered person. I expect that that’s the way he will come across.”To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, John Harney, Laurie AsséoFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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