A few weeks after he was confirmed to the Supreme Court last fall, Justice Brett Kavanaugh took a victory lap to celebrate with the people who put him there. He was a featured guest at the annual Federalist Society national fundraising dinner, where the assembled conservative lawyers greeted him with a standing ovation. If anyone had hoped that Kavanaugh would try to mend fences or mitigate the impression left by his confirmation hearing that he was a hardcore GOP partisan, those hopes were largely dashed.
New York Times columnist Linda Greenhouse questioned whether his victory lap would cement Kavanaugh’s ideological commitment, not to conservative legal principals but to the agenda of the Federalist Society, which has largely taken over the role of selecting judicial nominees for the Trump administration. Kavanaugh’s dinner appearance, she wrote, smacked of “social control, the not so subtle message of the evening being: We’ve been here for you, and we expect you to be here for us. If you want to come back, don’t disappoint us.”
Now that Kavanaugh has finished his first term on the bench, it’s clear how much he’s hewed to the right and shifted the court in the way his benefactors had hoped he would. There have been a couple of surprising votes, including one that put him on the opposite side from President Donald Trump, but nothing that’s really put him at odds with the Federalist Society. Leonard Leo, the group’s vice president and friend of Kavanaugh, recently told Time approvingly, “Brett Kavanaugh has seen how unforgiving the Left can be…So Justice Kavanaugh has every incentive to basically do what he wants to do and ignore the Left.”
Kavanaugh’s predecessor, Anthony Kennedy, was a Republican appointee who was an unpredictable swing voter on significant social issues like LGBT and abortion rights, positions that drove conservatives crazy. His vote was critical to the legalization of same-sex marriage and the preservation of abortion rights. In his first term on the court, Kavanaugh has already proven that he’s no Anthony Kennedy.
In 2014, Louisiana passed a law virtually identical to the Texas one the Supreme Court would strike down in 2016. Like the Texas law, it would have closed most of the state’s abortion clinics. The lower courts blocked the Louisiana law, invoking the 2016 Supreme Court case, and in February, it landed at the Supreme Court, where Kavanaugh had taken Kennedy’s seat.
In his first term on the court, Kavanaugh has already proven that he’s no Anthony Kennedy.