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Trump names religious liberty ‘warrior’ Brett Kavanaugh to Supreme Court

President Donald Trump listens as Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his Supreme Court nominee, speaks in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(RNS) — President Trump has nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be his Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, setting the stage for a heated confirmation battle that will likely focus on his views regarding both law and religion.

Trump made the announcement from the White House on Monday evening (July 9) after keeping observers guessing for several days.


RELATED: 5 faith facts on Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh


“Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications, and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law,” Trump said, as Kavanaugh stood nearby with his wife and children. “He is a brilliant jurist with a clear and effective writing style universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time.”

When Kavanaugh spoke soon after, he was quick to talk about his faith.

“I am part of the vibrant Catholic community in the D.C. area,” Kavanaugh said, after mentioning his Jesuit high school. “The members of that community disagree on many things, but we are united by a commitment to serve.”

President Trump greets Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his Supreme Court nominee, in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Kavanaugh, who once clerked for Kennedy, has built a high-profile career tailor-made to please many stalwart conservatives: He helped author the Starr Report on then-President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, represented Cuban child Elian Gonzalez pro bono to keep him from returning to the island nation, and was a lawyer with the George W. Bush campaign during the Florida recount.

But since being appointed to the District Columbia Circuit of the Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh has also issued rulings that speak directly to hot-button issues among people of faith, such as abortion and religious liberty.

“He’s going to move the court to the right of the man who he clerked for,” said Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia School of Law professor who specializes in religion and the U.S. Constitution. He noted that the most lasting impact of Kavanaugh’s appointment may be how it reshuffles the calculus of the court, saying that confirming him will make it “more likely Chief Justice John Roberts will be the swing vote.”

Many have noted Kavanaugh’s dissent in Garza v. Hargan, when the court allowed an undocumented teenager who had crossed the border from Mexico into Texas as an unaccompanied minor to get an abortion while residing at a government-funded shelter. He argued the 2017 ruling was “ultimately based on a constitutional principle as novel as it is wrong: a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand.”

In this June 1, 2006, file photo, from left to right, President Bush watches the swearing-in of Brett Kavanaugh as judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, far right, during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington. Holding the Bible is Kavanaugh’s wife, Ashley Kavanaugh. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Kavanaugh also wrote a lengthy dissent in another case when the court declined to take up a case brought by a group of priests who objected to the Obama administration’s rules regarding contraceptive coverage.

Some conservative observers, however, felt that his dissent wasn’t, well, conservative enough. David French at the National Review argued last week that Kavanaugh erred by purportedly suggesting the government has a compelling interest to provide contraception to a religious organization that opposes it.

“While the government may well deem that contraceptives provide many general benefits (and Kavanaugh outlines those benefits in his opinion), that is not the same thing as holding that those general benefits are sufficiently compelling as applied to the employees of a small religious nonprofit,” French wrote.

But in another National Review piece, Justin Walker — assistant professor at the University of Louisville Brandeis Law School and former clerk of both Kennedy and Kavanaugh — argued the D.C. circuit judge is ultimately a “warrior for religious liberty.”

Brett Kavanaugh appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 26, 2004.  (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

Responding to an article in the conservative publication The Federalist critical of Kavanaugh, Walker noted that Kavanaugh chaired the Federalist Society’s Religious Liberty practice group in the 1990s, offered pro bono work for “cases defending religious freedom,” and “represented a synagogue pro bono in a local zoning dispute.” The image posted above the article is one of Kavanaugh shaking hands with Pope John Paul II.

“Judge Kavanaugh believes his job is to apply the law objectively, without regard to his personal views,” Walker said in an email to Religion News Service. “Part of applying the law objectively includes applying the Constitution. He also understands that our founders believed deeply in religious liberty, and that the Constitution they wrote protects the free exercise of religion.”

Kavanaugh also reportedly volunteered his time on a Supreme Court religious liberty case with Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, and Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers who has long opposed the portion of the IRS tax code that bars nonprofits from endorsing candidates for office.

A First Liberty Institute representative confirmed to RNS that the 2000 case was Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, where the court ruled that a policy allowing student-led, student-initiated prayer at high school football games violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

176 Comments

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  • It’s probably good that we will still be able to question the over-weighted influence from the doctrine of one denomination on the future bad 5/4 decisions we can expect from five Republican males raised Catholic.

  • I hope Kavanaugh turns out to be a true “religious liberty warrior” as advertised, especially right now, in the Age of Gay Goliath.

    But that part comes later. The Democrats have made it clear that they will try to “Bork” Trump’s nominee, no matter who and no matter what. This is the battle we’ve all been waiting for.

    Therefore, for the very survival of the United States Constitution, Justice Kavanaugh must win and the oily Democrats must lose (once again).

  • Being raised Catholic, Jewish, Episcopalian, or female hasn’t particularly over-weighted the Court’s justices in the past.

    Or do you think Kennedy’s denomination supported his decisions.

  • The legal scholar Ezra was skilled in the Law of Moses and taught the people, especially the political leaders of Israel, the Law of Moses (Ezra 7-8). Jesus explained the Greatest Commandment in the Law, loving the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28:31). Brett Kavanaugh has a reputation for upholding religious liberty in the U.S. Constitution. Religious liberty is part of American heritage in the competing marketplace of religious pluralism. The competition continues. Jesus’ credentials and purpose continue to reach out, by outspoken Christians, to a nation in need of his salvation from sins.

  • They may not have the votes, but they can draw from a plethora of stalling techniques and arcane technicalities to drag out the process for as long as possible, preferably past the midterms, and I hope they do. Civility went out the window when Mitch McConnell stole Merrick Garland’s seat for Neil Gorsuch. Kavanagh’s qualifications or the lack thereof are irrelevant at this point. All that matters for Democrats is using every means at their disposal to stall this process and I’m sure they will do so. This is war, and this time Democrats will not sit quietly and behave ourselves while the Republicans gleefully throw away the rule book and play by their own set of “rules.”

  • Evidently, Kavanaugh is a strict immigrationist. That will help President Trump Make America White Again. Hallelujah, Praise be to God, Amen.

  • Based on McConnell’s outmaneuvering of Schumer on Gorsuch, I wouldn’t put money on Schumer’s ability to be fleet of foot and quick of wit.

    Civility when out the window when Harry Reid took the nuclear option. Your constant kvetching about Merrick Garland grows tiresome. Power talks and sh-t walks.

    You can thank Justice Ginsburg’s arrogance for the next nomination that Trump gets to make.

    A real donnybrook will play to the Republicans advantage.

    I hope it comes to that.

  • Kavanaugh is a strict “the law is as written” judge.

    If you want new laws, go get them.

  • “Power talks and sh-t walks.”

    No, power grabs, just like Trump demonstrated on that Access Hollywood tape. As for me and my so-called kvetching, if you find it tiresome then I will be sure to do more of it.

  • Nope. Wrong again.
    Tradition, decorum and rules of order were tossed out by one Harry Reid and the Democratic Party when he used the nuclear option to remove the filibuster on federal judge appointees. Selfish democrats that that once again proved that they would do what they wanted regardless of the consequences.
    As far as civility, I think that was tossed out when your antifa and socialist buddies took to the streets the day after the election.

  • Keep bragging about the Christian conspiracy to corrupt the Supreme Court, in order to impose their beliefs on the entire country.

  • “do a Bork”
    Is that what Christians call it when they f*ck the entire country in the a$$, by opposing gay rights and abortion all day?

  • I, unlike you, do not live in LaLa Land.

    I understand that JFK ordered one of his young female interns to give a cabinet officer a humjob, which she did, that LBJ was lying and possibly murderous SOB, that Jimmie Carter was a prissy control freak, and that Richard Nixon was anti-Semite.

    It matters not a whit.

    All that matters is who has the power to accomplish a task.

    The moralizing is interesting, and I engage in it, but it is more than tiresome coming from your end of the political spectrum given the track record of the Clintons, Obama, et al.

    They’d do the same or worse given a chance, and did.

  • You do, in fact, live in LaLa Land, and you don’t care at all about the blatant corruption in Trump’s administration.

  • Ok, just as soon as you get your claws off of my bodily autonomy, with all this talk about overturning Roe v. Wade.

  • This phrase “upholding religious liberty”, as it’s currently and constantly being tossed about by the GOP, gives me and my friends the impression that this is code switching for a return to the Christian Hegemony…to the detriment of non Christians.

  • It sure will, just as soon as you retards get your religion off of other people’s bodies.

  • Of course that is understandable if one and one’s friends are religion-hating left-wing etc etc etc who hate their neighbors.

  • The role of the president is to nominate Supreme Court justices. The role of the senate is to advise and give consent. Unless a nominee is blatantly incompetent, the senate should approve him or her. And, yes, I feel the same way about both liberal and conservative nominees.

    Political ideology shouldn’t enter into the approval process, nor should litmus test issues. Sadly, since Roe v. Wade, both Republican and Democrat-controlled senates have overreached on their role and so politicized the approval process that the court is now more partisan and less intellectually impressive than at any time since the Civil War.

    As much as I loathe the fact that Trump is the president, he nonetheless is and he has the right to nominate whom he pleases. If you don’t like it, the solution is at the ballot box.

  • No, the nation needs safe and legal abortion on demand, as well as civil rights for gay and trans people.

  • You could have eliminated the qualifier “gay” and stopped after the word “people” and be just as accurate.

  • People forget that Robert Bork was the lone sell-out who finally did Richard Nixon’s bidding in firing independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox who was then leading the Watergate investigation after three senior officials ahead of Bork refused to do so in what is now infamously referred to as “The Saturday Night Massacre.” This is why Democrats adamantly opposed his nomination to the Supreme Court. Since Republicans always reward treasonous traitors who sell out the Constitution in favor of a corrupt president, it stands to reason why they would consider Bork a hero.

  • Republican Richard Nixon was far worse than an anti-Semite – he was a treasonous traitor who intentionally went behind LBJ’s back to sabotage the Vietnam peace talks, thereby prolonging that war by at least five years and costing thousands of lives – a mortal sin for which I hope he now rots in hell. Compared to that I’ll take Bill Clinton and JFK’s blowjobs any day:

    https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21768668

  • “As much as I loathe the fact that Trump is the president, he nonetheless is and he has the right to nominate whom he pleases.”

    Yes, that dictum was so well respected by Republicans who refused to give Merrick Garland so much as a hearing with nearly a year remaining in Obama’s term.

    Therefore, f*ck that sh*t!

  • You mean where they talk about minority rights? Stop oppressing gay people and trying to outlaw abortion, retards.

  • Ah, yes. The “two wrongs make a right” theory of government, so radically successful throughout history.

    There’s a boatload of hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle on this issue and has been for decades. Nobody — and I mean nobody — has clean hands. The issue isn’t which side did it first or which is more reprehensible. It’s which side is finally going to do the right thing.

  • This just in: it’s the electoral vote that counts. You don’t like that and neither do I, but that’s the way it is and it’s not going to change any time soon. So complaining about how Hillary won the popular vote is pointless.

    Here’s a cold hard fact that Hillary’s supporters don’t like to hear. She didn’t work hard enough in the rust-belt states like Michigan and Wisconsin. She took them for granted. She also failed to get African-American voters to the polls like Obama did. She failed.

    The reality is that Hillary Clinton lost to the worst, least desirable GOP candidate in history. Think about that. And, if you’re a Democrat, keep it in mind the next time your party nominates a presidential candidate — unless, of course, you want to lose the Electoral College again.

  • Actually, I consider Justice Thomas to be a hero — the first black man to escape the Democratic Plantation on national television.

  • Republicans elected the worst, least desirable GOP candidate in history, because that’s how much they hate women, gays, and black people. Think about that. And, if you’re a Republican, keep it in mind the next time your party nominates a Supreme Court candidate — unless, of course, you want to lose the g*dd*mn Civil War again.

  • I’m an independent and I don’t drink either party’s Kool-Aid. I try to see things clearly and dispassionately.

    If you want to believe that all Trump voters are haters, go ahead. It might make you feel all righteously indignant and superior, but you’ll fail to learn the real lessons of 2016. And you’ll lose again in 2020.

  • Actually it was LBJ who was a treasonous traitor.

    I get the distinct impression you get your history from comic books.

    The BBC article doesn’t support “treason” – look it up in the Constitution.

    What it supports is that LBJ blew it, and Nixon outmaneuvered him.

    It also supports that as Obama rigged the DNC Convention for Hillary, LBJ was trying the same for his coming convention.

    I really don’t care which of the two you prefer for blowjobs.

  • Funny, you were kvetching just two days ago about what a benighted Christianist group of Luddites you dwell among.

    You may recall I suggested you consider moving to California or Massachusetts where they were more your speed and to your liking.

    And what’s “Noope”?

  • I’m more worried about abortion and LGBT+ rights, at the moment, to be perfectly honest with you.

  • All this talk about abortion rights makes it seem like you have pick one side or the other. If I’m in the water, why can’t I both Row and Wade?

  • I doubt Roe v. Wade will ever be overturned, and gay marriage is now the law of the land. Anything is possible, but overturning previous court decisions requires test cases with very specific considerations, as well as timing. It’s not as simple as people seem to think.

    And don’t forget, what goes around comes around. The Republicans changed the rules on ending filibusters to force a vote on Neil Gorsuch, and that may well come back to bite them if the Dems take over the Senate. Like I said, the solution is at the ballot box.

  • Oh, I agree with that last bit. However, if you read other comments sections on this website, you’ll find a lot of hardcore certainty that whoever Trump picks WILL overturn Roe, no question. It is cause for great concern.

  • Hardcore certainty. For those on the right that means wishful thinking. For those on the left it means paranoia.

    The truth is, none of us has any idea what will happen. All I know is that, as I said, court precedent is difficult to overturn.

  • “Religious liberty,” of course, is defined as a willingness to put the Bible ahead of the Constitution. Which is the exact opposite of what a Supreme Court justice should do, but never mind.

  • That’s what happens when you play games with tradition, decorum and the rules of order.
    Thank you Harry Reid.

  • Oh yes, the “both sides do it” argument. Well you can take your paternalistic sanctimony and preach it to your fellow Republicans and see where that leads you. I’m done.

  • I’m not a Republican. As for being paternalistic and/or sanctimonious, I do try to be attentive to my own flaws. But what I don’t do is fool myself into thinking I have any meaningful insights about other people based on what they post on these boards, or swallow what they purport to think they know about me.

    Get as pissed as you like, but what I’m most concerned about is getting American politics back on a higher path, not for moral reasons but because what we’re doing now isn’t working.

  • Civility was tossed out the moment Trump reared his notorious head on the political scene.

  • You sure have brought up JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Carter, and Clarence “Long Dong Silver/Who put this pubic hair on my Coke?” Thomas.

  • Actually, we Christians are working our patooties off to make sure you Satanists don’t get your constitutional religious freedoms repealed by government goons (and goliaths!). We care.

  • At the moment that’s apparently your default classification of those who disagree with you.

  • Based on what he has done so far, not the least of which is record employment among Hispanics and blacks, it is hard to argue that he was the least desirable GOP candidate in history.

    In recent history that would be a toss-up between RINO John McCain or RINO Mitt Romney.

  • The ending of filibusters has its inception in Harry Reid, not Mitch McConnell.

    McConnell warned Reid it could come back to bite him and it did.

  • It is unwise to overturn.

    It makes judicial nominations partisan.

    It makes the law uncertain.

    It bypasses the democratic process.

  • I thought that moment was the election of Maxine Waters.

    I simply LOVE when partisans claim the other party is – uncivil, dishonest, sneaky, pick one – since both sides wallow in sh-t.

  • Really? Because it looks like you’re still trying to outlaw abortion and gay marriage.

  • All of your pleas for high-mindedness are for naught when we have a president indulging in nasty, sleazy gutter politics every minute of every day. As for your suggestion that it’s time to lay down arms, all I can say is, Puh-leeze! If you think Democrats would be so foolish as to believe that Republicans would actually honor a commitment to lay down arms then I have some nice beachfront property in Arizona to sell you. Republicans would smile at Democrats as they lay down their arms while simultaneously stabbing them in the back with a machete and laughing at them for being so stupidly gullible. No, we’re well beyond the civility stage where everyone plays neat and clean. As James Baker told his legal team when they were stealing Florida for W, “this is a street fight, boys,” while Gore’s team was still playing by Marquess of Queensberry rules. Naturally the Democrats lost that one, the consequences of which are still being felt today. WELL NOT ANYMORE!!!

  • True, but it’s never been on a lower one than it is now, all thanks to the person you voted in to be POTUS. Take a bow for the death of civility – you completely own it.

  • Anti-abortionists and gay-bashers on this forum are laughing at Auschwitz, figuratively speaking.

  • Actually Kavanaugh is a Catholic white man, although I will concede that it’s sometimes difficult to tell between the two since conservative Catholics and Protestant evangelicals are so closely aligned politically these days. There was once a time when that wasn’t the case but not anymore.

  • I don’t think the last reply was an anti-abortion screed.seemed more like an attempt at levity

  • LBJ may not have reported Nixon’s treasonous behavior because it would have implicated him for illegally tapping Nixon’s phone calls, but comparing that act to Nixon’s, which cost thousands of lives, is both absurd and unhinged.

  • A Trump-supporting Republican piously bemoaning procedures which bypass the democratic process is utterly laughable in its pomposity and hypocrisy, especially after Merrick Garland. There, I said it again, just to irritate you.

    Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland, Merrick Garland.

  • Figured that one out, did you? The only people I’ve ever encountered in my nearly six decades on earth who obsess about gay things as much as Floydie does always turn out to be gay. Straight people just aren’t interested, for obvious reasons.

  • Inappropriate when discussing the corruption of the Supreme Court by religious zealots.

  • Fair point. But his agenda seems in line with Evangelicals…two sides of the same coin.

  • Ask Jack P and Baronelle S, and Christian vendors in at least 10 other states, about the…

    (1) proven existence of
    (2) proven viciousness of

    …the one-&-only Gay Goliath.

  • Indeed..to that kind of mindset “religious liberty” means the right to prefer Christianity in public institutions over all other religions. Case in point – teachers praying with students within their capacity as state employees.

  • That’s fine.

    First of all, like rockchalkwombat I am not a Republican.

    I think folks who are partisans, at least with two major parties, have weak minds.

    That includes you.

    Secondly, as you very well aware, I have no problem blocking people, or simply pointing they are not too bright in detail with support.

    But this Merrick Garland thing is whiny, irrelevant, sour grapes, and inane.

  • What was the treason?

    It was LBJ that cost thousands of lives.

    His conduct of Vietnam was criminal.

  • C’mon now. No use of you even TRYING to pretend that you haven’t got a clue regarding Goliath’s existence and hatred. We all got a clue by now.

    Especially in the Jack Phillips case, where even Justice Kennedy — Mr. Gay Marriage himself! — decided to publicly jump on a major Gay Goliath biohazard like the so-called Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

    “It seems to me that the state, in its position here, has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillip’s beliefs.” Welcome to Gay Goliath.

  • No, of course you’re not a Republican. No one is these days – everyone’s too ashamed to admit it. You just vote for Republicans. I get that.

  • Yes, pu$$y grbbin’ and serial adultery are noble and respected endeavors for the Office of the President now. Tweeting insults on a near-daily basis is the icing on the cake. WTF have you been smoking?

  • We are a Constitutional Republic, not a pure democracy. The popular vote means nothing in Presidential elections.

  • I would ask to what problem you might be referring if I cared.

    Which I don’t.

    So I won’t.

  • True, it now counts for little, as we saw in Obergefell v. Hodges, which they just pulled out of their butts. But a few more originalist/textualist Justices can reverse that trend.

  • Gay marriage did not just get pulled out of anyone’s butt. LGBT+ people have the same rights under the law as straight people, whether Christians like it or not.

  • In your eyes, any judge that Trump picks will have the agenda to overturn Roe v. Wade.

  • No. Not really. He wasn’t my guy. But he became my guy by default during the election.
    If we are going to be honest with one another, both candidates are not very upstanding people.
    That being said, having to choose between to horrible candidates; I go with the more conservative choice.
    Also, I don’t believe you and I have a beef with one another; so you can keep the cap locks off until I give you a good reason. 🙂

  • Nope, I told the great bob arnzen the other day that I would prefer that the pro-murder crowd would come to their senses on their own. That way they will embrace it because it will be their idea.

  • It would be nice if the Democratic Party had a bill Clinton in the wings. Instead, they have a bunch of socialists in waiting.

  • Ah yes, the bogeyman “socialist”. You dumb a$$holes don’t even know what that is. I hope you lose your health insurance, your social security and your Medicaid.

  • You incorrectly assume there are no Christian groups of Luddites dwelling in these two particular states. Have you lived in them for anything length of time?
    So, Torquemada, try again.

  • It is very legal and pragmatic to consider how a person will use his religious belief to interpret the law before approving him for office.

  • Fair point….maybe worldview would be a better word. But then again, judges most assuredly have agendas…that’s how they get picked by politicians to higher levels.

  • I would like to believe that most judges don’t. The purpose of a judge is to impartially “judge”. I think it takes a morally strong individual to make a sound legal decision against their personal convictions; which is why they are rare; especially at these levels. That is why I prefer those who are strict constitutionalists or originalists -that way, you know what the rules are. It is also with these types of judges where both sides are often disappointed; which is good.

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