Biography of Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court Justice

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (C) takes the podium as his wife Ashley (2nd R), daughters Liza (4th R) and Margaret (3rd R), and President Donald Trump (R) look on during a ceremonial swearing in
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (C) takes the podium as his wife Ashley (2nd R), daughters Liza (4th R) and Margaret (3rd R), and President Donald Trump (R) look on during a ceremonial swearing in.

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Brett Michael Kavanaugh (born February 12, 1965) is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Prior to his appointment, Kavanaugh served as a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump on July 9, 2018, he was confirmed by the Senate on October 6, 2018, after one of the most contentious confirmation processes in U.S. history. Kavanaugh fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. Compared to Kennedy, who was considered moderate on some social issues, Kavanaugh is regarded as a strong conservative voice on the Supreme Court. 

Fast Facts: Brett Kavanaugh

  • Full Name: Brett Michael Kavanaugh
  • Known for: 114th Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
  • Nominated by: President Donald Trump
  • Preceded by: Anthony Kennedy
  • Born: February 12, 1965, in Washington, D.C.
  • Parents: Martha Gamble and Everett Edward Kavanaugh Jr.
  • Wife: Ashley Estes, married 2004
  • Children:  Daughters Liza Kavanaugh and Margaret Kavanaugh
  • Education: - Georgetown Preparatory School; Yale University, Bachelor of Arts cum laude,1987; Yale Law School, Juris Doctor, 1990
  • Key Accomplishments: White House Staff Secretary, 2003-2006; Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 2006-2018; Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, October 6, 2018-

Early Life and Education

Born on February 12, 1965, in Washington, D.C., Brett Kavanaugh is the son of Martha Gamble and Everett Edward Kavanaugh Jr. He gained his interest in the law from his parents. His mother, who held a law degree, served as a judge on the Maryland state Circuit Court from 1995 to 2001, and his father, who was also an attorney, served as president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association for over 20 years

As a teenager growing up in Bethesda, Maryland, Kavanaugh attended the Catholic, all-boys Georgetown Preparatory School. One of his classmates, Neil Gorsuch, went on to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Kavanaugh graduated from Georgetown Preparatory in 1983.

Kavanaugh then attended Yale University, where he was known as a “serious but not showy student,” who played on the basketball team and wrote sports articles for the campus newspaper. A member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, he graduated from Yale with a Bachelor of Arts cum laude in 1987.

Kavanaugh then entered Yale Law School. During his confirmation hearing testimony, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I got into Yale Law School. That's the number-one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.” An editor of the prestigious Yale Law Journal, Kavanaugh graduated from Yale Law with a Juris Doctor in 1990. 

Early Legal Career

Kavanaugh began his career in the law working as a clerk for judges in the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and later the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He was also interviewed for a clerkship by Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist but was not offered the job.

After being admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1990 and the District of Columbia Bar in 1992, Kavanaugh served a one-year fellowship with then-Solicitor General of the United States, Ken Starr, who later headed the investigation that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. He then worked as a clerk for Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the justice he would eventually replace on the court.

After leaving his clerkship with Justice Kennedy, Kavanaugh returned to work for Ken Starr as an Associate Counselor in the Office of the Independent Counsel. While working for Starr, Kavanaugh was a principal author of the 1998 Starr Report to Congress dealing with the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky White House sex scandal. The report was cited in the House of Representatives debate as grounds for President Clinton’s impeachment. At Kavanaugh’s urging, Starr had included graphically detailed descriptions of each of Clinton’s sexual encounters with Lewinsky in the report.

Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, center, talks with Deputy Independent Counsel John Bates, left, and aide Brett Kavanaugh, right, and another colleague in the Office of the Solicitor General during the Whitewater Investigation on November 13, 1996 in Washington DC
Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, center, talks with Deputy Independent Counsel John Bates, left, and aide Brett Kavanaugh, right, and another colleague in the Office of the Solicitor General during the Whitewater Investigation on November 13, 1996 in Washington DC. Getty Images

In December 2000, Kavanaugh joined the legal team of George W. Bush working to stop the recount of Florida’s ballots in the controversial 2000 Presidential election. In January 2001, he was named as an associate White House Counsel in the Bush Administration, where he dealt with the Enron scandal and assisted in the nomination and confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts. From 2003 to 2006, Kavanaugh served as the Assistant to the President and White House Staff Secretary.

Federal Court of Appeals Judge: 2006 to 2018

On July 25, 2003, Kavanaugh was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President George W. Bush. However, he would not be confirmed by the Senate until almost three years later. During the on-again-off-again confirmation hearings, Democratic senators accused Kavanaugh of being too politically partisan.

After winning the recommendation of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote on May 11, 2006, Kavanaugh was confirmed by the full Senate by a vote of 57-36 on May 11, 2006.

During his 12 years as an appeals court judge, Kavanaugh authored opinions on a range of current “hot-button” issues ranging from abortion and the environment to employment discrimination law and gun control.

As to his voting record, a September 2018 Washington Post analysis of some 200 of his decisions found that Kavanaugh’s judicial record had been “significantly more conservative than that of almost every other judge on the D.C. Circuit.” However, the same analysis showed that when cases for which Kavanaugh had written a majority opinion were appealed to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court agreed with his position 13 times while reversing his position only once. 

Supreme Court Nomination and Confirmation: 2018

After interviewing him, along with three other U.S. Court of Appeals judges on July 2, 2018, President Trump on July 9, nominated Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. The tumultuous Senate confirmation process that played out between September 4 and October 6 would become a source of debate that deeply divided the American public along political and ideological lines.  

Senate Confirmation Hearings

Shortly after learning that President Trump was considering Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford contacted the Washington Post and her local congresswoman, alleging that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her while they were both in high school. On September 12, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) informed the Judiciary Committee that allegations of sexual assault had been lodged against Kavanaugh by a woman who did not want to be identified. On September 23, two other women Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, came forward accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.

Protestors rally against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh as they march on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Protestors rally against Judge Brett Kavanaugh as they march in Washington, DC. Getty Images 

In testimony during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings held between October 4 and October 6, Kavanaugh strongly denied all the allegations against him. Following a special supplemental FBI investigation that reportedly found no evidence corroborating Dr. Ford's allegations, the full Senate voted to 50-48 to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination on October 6, 2018. Later the same day he was sworn in as the 114th Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Chief Justice John Roberts in a private ceremony.

Family and Personal Life

On September 10, 2001, Kavanaugh had his first date with his wife, Ashley Estes, a personal secretary to President George W. Bush at the time. The next day—September 11, 2001—they were evacuated from the White House during to the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks. The couple married in 2004 and have two daughters Liza and Margaret.

A lifelong Catholic, he serves as a lector at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Washington, D.C., helps deliver meals to the homeless as part of the church’s outreach programs, and has tutored at the Catholic private Washington Jesuit Academy in the District of Columbia.

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