One year after his confirmation to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday makes his first public speaking appearance as a justice with a speech to the conservative legal organization instrumental to his nomination.
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Kavanaugh will deliver the keynote address at the Washington annual convention of the Federalist Society, whose president, Leonard Leo, has advised President Donald Trump on judicial nominees. Tickets for the sold out event went for $200 for members and $250 for non-members.
Kavanaugh, 54, has kept a low profile since his polarizing 2018 confirmation battle — one of the most divisive in history — which involved claims that he sexually assaulted several women while a high school and college student. He has strongly denied the allegations.
His opponents have been unrelenting in their criticism, earlier this year calling for Democrats to open impeachment hearings into his conduct.
Activists have protested his position on the faculty of George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School for which he taught a summer course in England on the origins of the U.S. Constitution, and said his involvement in cases relating to women’s rights would be forever tainted.
One of Kavanaugh’s accusers, California professor Christine Blasey Ford, recently defended her decision to deliver dramatic testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the days before a confirmation vote.
“I simply thought that it was my duty as a citizen and that anyone in my position would do the same thing,” she said at a YWCA event where she was recognized for speaking out.
For his part, Justice Kavanaugh has tried to smooth over the controversy.
In October 2018 after being sworn in, Kavanaugh addressed the nation from the East Room of the White House promising to “be a force for stability and unity.”
“The Senate confirmation process was contentious and emotional. That process is over. My focus now is to be the best Justice I can be,” Kavanaugh said. “I take this office with gratitude and no bitterness.”
“My goal is to be a great Justice for all Americans and for all of America. I will work very hard to achieve that goal,” he said.
One of his first acts as a justice was to hire four Supreme Court law clerks – all women – a move which has won repeated public praise from fellow justice and feminist icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“There is a very important first on the Supreme Court this term, and it’s thanks to our new justice, Justice Kavanaugh,” Ginsburg said in the July 2019 appearance. She has also called her new colleague “very decent and very smart.”
His tone in questioning during oral arguments and in written opinions has been both measured and straightforward, legal analysts say. Conservatives have celebrated his votes as reliably supportive of their views.
Kavanaugh sided with Chief Justice John Roberts in every case except one during his first term. He voted to uphold a Latin cross war memorial on public land in Maryland; allow the Trump administration to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census; and, keep the courts out of policing partisan gerrymandering.
In February 2019, Kavanaugh broke with Roberts to dissent in a 5-4 decision blocking a controversial Louisiana abortion law from taking effect. But he joined the chief in siding with the liberal justices in a 2018 case involving Planned Parenthood funding.
“Our Supreme Court judges are great gentlemen,” President Trump said at a White House event this month celebrating his judicial nominations. “And I have great respect for both of them.”
Both Kavanaugh and Gorsuch could prove to be critical votes for the president in several cases before the court this term.
The justices are deciding whether to uphold Trump’s 2017 decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and whether to prohibit employment discrimination against LGBT Americans under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a position which Trump opposes.
The president’s legal team also plans to appeal a lower federal court ruling ordering his accounting firm, Mazars, to turn over Trump financial records to congressional investigators who have subpoenaed them.