As soon as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, people started taking bets on whom President Donald Trump would nominate to replace him—sometimes literally. Online betting isn’t legal in the United States, but an Australian online bookmaker, sportsbet.com.au, posted its odds for the leading Supreme Court candidates, and the site—like the Washington chattering class—pegs Brett Kavanaugh as the favorite.
So who is Kavanaugh? The 53-year-old currently sits on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Elevating him to the Supreme Court wouldn’t add much diversity to the high court, but it would add a reliably conservative vote.
Kavanaugh was born and raised in the Beltway—in Washington, DC, and the tony suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, respectively. He would be the fourth sitting justice to have graduated from Yale Law School and the sixth Catholic on the current bench. A former Kennedy clerk, he is a longtime active member of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal outfit that has played a key role in Trump’s judicial appointments.
Kavanaugh first emerged as a rising GOP star in 1994, when he joined the legal team of independent counsel Kenneth Starr, a former solicitor general for whom he’d worked during the George H. W. Bush administration. Starr’s investigation into an Arkansas real estate deal by Bill and Hillary Clinton morphed into a prurient examination of the former president’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. Kavanaugh led the investigation into the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, which gave birth to conspiracy theories that the Clintons killed him. Kavanaugh was later a primary author of the Starr Report, which read like a steamy romance novel with lines like, “On all nine of those occasions, the President fondled and kissed her bare breasts.”
In those heady days, Kavanaugh traveled in a circle of budding GOP legal eagles, including Fox News host Laura Ingraham, current Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and clerks for conservative Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Kavanaugh’s presence in right-wing political circles landed him a cameo in Blinded by the Right, a book by conservative operative turned Democratic fundraiser David Brock. Brock wrote that during the Whitewater investigation into the Clinton Arkansas real estate deal, he once attended an event at Ingraham’s house to watch one of Clinton’s State of the Union addresses. When the cameras panned to first lady Hillary Clinton during the speech, Brock said he witnessed Kavanaugh mouth the word “bitch.”
In an interview, Brock says Kavanaugh in those days “was a very recognizable type in Washington: a young Federalist Society lawyer on the make in the conservative movement. He thought his ticket was helping bring down the Clintons.”
Kavanaugh so frequently inserted himself into high-profile political battles that during his confirmation hearing for his DC Circuit seat, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called him the “Forrest Gump of Republican politics.”
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