BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota – Justice Brett Kavanaugh pointed to mixed US Supreme Court decisions this term as he sought Thursday to dispel notions he is partisan, even after conservatives ended affirmative action on admissions college campuses and take down student president Joe Biden. loan debt relief program.
“The court is an institution of law. It’s an institution of law, not politics, not partisanship,» Kavanaugh said at a court conference in Minnesota, in the first public comments by a judge since the court went into summer recess late last month.
The Supreme Court has been reshaped by the three justices appointed by President Donald Trump, including Kavanaugh. Although Kavanaugh sided with conservative majorities in affirmative action and student loan rulings, as well as last summer’s ruling that struck down abortion rights nationwide, he was also part of mixed liberal and conservative majorities this year. period that they endorsed black voters in Alabama and preserved a federal law intended to keep Native American children with Native families.
And the term was marked by other notable surprises, rejecting conservative positions in a North Carolina redistricting case that could have reshaped elections across the country, while backing the Biden administration in a fight over deportation priorities. .
“We have fallen short, in my opinion, in deciding cases based on the law and not based on party affiliation and partisanship,” Kavanaugh said. “We don’t do caucuses in separate rooms. We don’t see each other separately. We are not sitting on different sides of the aisle in oral argument. … We work as a group of nine.”
Speaking before an audience of judges, attorneys and court staff for the 8th Circuit, which stretches from Minnesota and the Dakotas south to Arkansas, Kavanaugh said it was not until he joined the court that he fully realized how long it took the nine judges pass alone with each of them. other.
He estimated that they have lunch together about 65 times a year.
“And the rule at lunch is that you can’t talk about work,” he said. «It’s a good rule. … It builds relationships and friendships and then when we have hard cases, and we really only have hard cases, you have a reservoir of goodwill toward each other person.”
Kavanaugh said he was warmly received in his first term in 2018 by then-Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, who were part of the court’s liberal wing. He also praised his working relationships with the two new justices, conservative Amy Coney Barrett and liberal Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Kavanaugh, who was the most frequent justice in the majority this term in split cases, said the Supreme Court hears 60 to 70 cases a term and only a few could get the lion’s share of attention. But he said there are a lot of 9-0 decisions, and there can also be a lot of 7-2 and 6-3 decisions.
“All kinds of different lineups,” he said. “Then you could be working with Sonia Sotomayor on the Andy Warhol case, while we disagree on a competition clause case. We are not going to let our relationship where we work together on one suffer just because we disagree on the other. And that happens to the nine of us on a daily basis.”
Kavanaugh only briefly mentioned ethics issues that have dogged some justices, including conservatives Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito and liberal Sotomayor, and potentially undermined public confidence in the court. He noted that Chief Justice John Roberts said in May that the justices were still working on it as a group.
«That’s accurate,» he said. «I’m not going to add anything to what the Chief Justice has said on that issue.»
Roberts did not offer details at the time, and the judges have not adopted a code of ethics.
Kavanaugh said that people who get angry when the high court makes tough decisions come with the territory. He said the best judges can do is try to be consistent, clearly explain their reasoning and try to show that they are actually working as a team of nine on difficult cases rather than grouping together in a partisan fashion.
«You shouldn’t be in this line of work if you don’t like criticism,» he said. «Because you’re going to get it. And you’re going to get a lot out of it.»