Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly advised President Trump that Thomas Hardiman and Raymond Kethledge, two circuit court judges with only slight connections to Washington, D.C., would be easier to confirm than Brett Kavanaugh, a D.C. circuit court judge with a lifetime of connections to the city. McConnell may have been right. Judge Kavanaugh’s work in Washington has generated a very long paper trail that predates his service to the judiciary. In addition, some of his work for the Bush administration may give Sen. Rand Paul pause.
But because of his outstanding personal qualities, Kavanaugh also benefits from his Washington connections. He is known and highly respected by the D.C. legal establishment (and its branch offices at Yale and Harvard law schools), including many Democrats. As such, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski should be able to get comfortable with nomination. Indeed, there are indications that Collins and Murkowski are already comfortable (a feeling subject to change, of course, depending on what the confirmation process may reveal).
Richard Lazarus is a highly respected law professor at Harvard who specializes in environmental law. For years, he taught in D.C. at Georgetown law school. He’s a liberal.
Prof. Lazarus describes Kavanaugh as “a really decent person, with enormous integrity.”
Kavanaugh’s decency comes through in every account I’ve read of interviews with his neighbors and acquaintances. So does his lack of extremism. For example, one neighbor, a lawyer and a Democrat, told the Washington Post that Kavanaugh “is the type of Republican you would want the Republicans to nominate.”
Personally, I can think of higher praise from a Democrat. But statements like this must be music to Susan Collins’ ears.
This Wall Street Journal article by Yale law professor Amy Chua must be even more musical. Prof. Chua describes Kavanaugh’s “extraordinary mentorship” of young women lawyers. More than half of Kavanaugh’s law clerks have been women and, according to Chua:
To a person, they described his extraordinary mentorship. “When I accepted his offer to clerk,” one woman wrote, “I had no idea I was signing up for a lifelong mentor who feels an enduring sense of responsibility for each of his clerks.” Another said: “I can’t imagine making a career decision without his advice.” And another: “He’s been an incredible mentor to me despite the fact that I’m a left-of-center woman. He always takes into account my goals rather than giving generic advice.”
Chua’s colleague on the Yale law faculty, the distinguished liberal scholar Akhil Amar, has vouched for Kavanaugh’s judging, as Steve noted here. He wrote in the New York Times:
Last week the president promised to select “someone with impeccable credentials, great intellect, unbiased judgment, and deep reverence for the laws and Constitution of the United States.” In picking Judge Kavanaugh, he has done just that.
Finally, to cite just one more example, Benjamin Wittes, formerly of the Washington Post and a leading anti-Trumper, came to Kavanaugh’s defense to dispel one of the left’s major potential lines of attack against Judge Kavanaugh — that Kavanaugh’s writings show he’ll be hostile to the Mueller investigation. Wittes argued that, if anything, Kavanaugh’s writings indicate the opposite.
It turns out that Wittes appeared at the University of Minnesota symposium where Kavanaugh presented the analysis the left is trying to use against him. According to Wittes, the two “talked at some length” about Kavanaugh’s ideas “of how investigations of the president should and should not take place.” Wittes clearly found Kavanaugh thoughtful and reasonable. He was impressed that Kavanaugh wanted “to protect the institution of the presidency at time when his party didn’t control it.”
The range of praise for Kavanaugh emanating from establishment liberals shows that, for someone of Brett Kavanaugh’s caliber, being well known in Washington can be an asset in a confirmation battle.