The Atlantic Profiles Justice Kavanaugh. No he is not out for revenge. No, he is not a mystery. He is who we always knew he was.

"But squint again at the story of Kavanaugh's rise, and a different picture might come into view: a credential-obsessed meritocrat who's spent his life sweatily striving for power without any grounding in conviction or principle."

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McKay Coppins wrote a deep profile about Justice Kavanaugh in the Atlantic. He talked to Kavanaugh's friends, clerks, and other people who seem to have some inside information. The piece is titled, "Is Brett Kavanaugh Out for Revenge?" The subtitle is "Three years after his polarizing confirmation hearings, the Supreme Court's 114th justice remains a mystery." Let me help people out here. No, he is not out for revenge. No, he is not a mystery. Justice Kavanaugh is who we always knew he was. I have disagreed with many of his rulings, but frankly, I have not been surprised. Almost every vote he cast was consistent with how I have long understood him. Perhaps the lone exception was his brilliant Calvary Chapel concurrence, which is now the Court's Free Exercise Clause approach. But otherwise, it has been business as usual.

Coppins accurately distills Kavanaugh into a single sentence, which is buried at the end of the article:

But squint again at the story of Kavanaugh's rise, and a different picture might come into view: a credential-obsessed meritocrat who's spent his life sweatily striving for power without any grounding in conviction or principle.

As I read the piece, I found myself nodding in agreement, over and over again. Here are a few highlights.

First, Coppins explains that (Chief) Justice Kagan made an early play for Kavanaugh's vote. She would host a dinner party for him! The fabled DC dinner party. It's like a parody, but for real.

Kagan, an Obama appointee known inside the Court as a deft strategic operator, was quick to make a move. Sensing that Kavanaugh, in this vulnerable moment, might welcome allies wherever he could find them, she launched a quiet charm offensive. While he was still moving into his chambers, Kagan stopped by and offered to host a dinner party in his honor at her Washington apartment. They were seen together frequently—whispering and laughing during oral arguments or talking baseball over lunch in the justices' private dining hall, where she liked to joke that their conversation was a reprieve from the Shakespearean forays favored by Kavanaugh's predecessor, Anthony Kennedy. "She saw him as up for grabs," said one person with knowledge of the Court's internal dynamics.

Yeah, no kidding. Laurence Tribe was right about Kagan. She would have purchase on Justice Kennedy. And she will have purchase on Justice Kavanaugh.

Second, we learn more about the bromance between Chief Justice Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh. No, it's not a bromance. They are soul-mates.

But the justice to whom Kavanaugh gravitated, according to people close to him, was John Roberts. The two men had moved in similar social circles for years—they belonged to the same country club, played in the same poker game—and Kavanaugh had long considered him a role model. He made little secret of his fanboy status: In his D.C. Circuit chambers, a blown-up photograph of himself and "the chief" had hung on the wall. "Brett idolizes John Roberts," a friend of Kavanaugh's told me. "If you're looking for soul-mate types, that's them."

After Justice Kennedy retired, I told anybody who would listen that Kavanaugh would be a Roberts clone. The Kavanaugh entourage viciously rejected this alleged slander. Who were they kidding? Kavanaugh had a Roberts shrine in his chambers. Was anyone surprised that Roberts's NFIB opinion relied so heavily on Kavanaugh's Seven-Sky v. Holder opinion? I wrote an entire chapter on this episode in Unprecedented, which I reprinted on my blog. But don't worry. Chevron is on the chopping block.

Coppins explains that Roberts "cultivate[d] Kavanaugh."

Court watchers varied on whether the feeling was mutual, but Roberts had his own reasons to cultivate Kavanaugh.

This language is very similar to language that Joan Biskupic used in her series of SCOTUS leaks:

CNN has learned that resolution of that case took many twists and multiple draft opinions. Guided by Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh crafted much of what turned out to be an unsigned "per curiam" opinion — joined by six justices, including Roberts—returning the case to lower court judges.

Guided. Cultivated. Dare I say groomed? How demeaning.

Next, Coppins seems to reveal some information from conferences. My criticisms against Biskupic apply here as well. These leaks are dangerous and should be avoided.

Roberts worked to ensure that Kavanaugh's first term was as uneventful as possible. He maneuvered to clear the docket of abortion cases, and successfully punted a controversial case involving a Christian baker and a same-sex-wedding cake back to the lower courts. In the cases the Court heard, Kavanaugh stuck close to Roberts, voting with him 94 percent of the time.

In February 2019, the Court blocked Louisiana's abortion law in the case that became June Medical. But the Court also granted cert and heard the case the following term. Kavanaugh would have denied the stay (shocker) but suggested an alternate path for the challengers to prevail.

The reference to the Christian Baker here is not to Masterpiece, which was decided in June 2018 before Kavanaugh joined the Court. Rather, Coppins is referring to Melissa Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. Klein owned Sweetcakes bakery in Oregon. This case was distributed to thirteen conferences. And on June 17, the Court finally GVR'd the case in light of Masterpiece. If Coppins is correct, then Roberts warned that if the Court granted cert, he would rule against the baker–the same schtick he pulled in Second Amendment cases last year. And Kavanaugh went along with it.

Third, Coppins gives us some insights about the relationship between Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch. The two Trump appointees, who attended the same prep school, and who both clerked for the same Justice, have never boofed well together.

Observers were quick to note how different Kavanaugh seemed from his fellow Trump appointee, Neil Gorsuch. Though they had known each other since adolescence, when they were two years apart at Georgetown Prep, they were polar opposites. Kavanaugh was the proto–frat bro who organized boozy beach trips for his friends, Gorsuch the know-it-all prig who spent his free time on the debate team. And though they ended up clerking at the same time for Justice Kennedy, they never seemed to warm up to each other. The tense nature of their relationship became a subject of speculation among the Court's insiders. Some chalked it up to clashing personalities: "Gorsuch has somewhat sharp elbows and a lot of self-regard," one person told me. Others pointed to signs of a competitive rivalry: When Gorsuch was nominated first for the Supreme Court, in 2017, a restless Kavanaugh began telling friends that he might retire from the D.C. Circuit and make money practicing law.

"A lot of self-regard." That is putting it mildly. But I will always commend Justice Gorsuch for his convictions. He stands by his position, regardless of the potential backlash. Bostock was profoundly wrong, but Justice Gorsuch was willing to accept retribution. Justice Kavanaugh could not make such a decision. Coppins writes:

His conservative colleagues might let stories like that roll off their backs, but Kavanaugh is hyper-attentive to the press. "I don't think Thomas or Alito gives a shit what The New York Times says about them," one friend told me. "But I think Brett does."

Coppins quotes another Kavanaugh ally who worries that the Justice will drift to the right:

Now some Republicans are privately wondering if the scramble to push through his confirmation was worth it. "Might there be some temptation to appease the left? Yeah, there might be," one Kavanaugh ally told me. "He's a human, and that's a very human temptation. But I would be extremely disappointed in him if he were to go south."

No, he will not drift. He cannot drift. To drift, you must have a fixed starting point. Kavanaugh is who he is.

NEXT: The Eleventh Rule of Court Packing Is Hold a 90-Minute Public "Meeting" Over Zoom

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  1. “My criticisms against Biskupic apply here as well. These leaks are dangerous and should be avoided.”

    Dave Barry (roughly paraphrasing) said a leak was when someone with knowledge lets the public know what the government is doing.

    I suppose that could be dangerous if someone leaks about plans for countering a Chinese invasion. Or tries to manipulate the stock market by revealing a planned court decision on the SEC or whatever.

    But in general, the more we know about these clowns and how they operate, the better.

    I hope the mess of pottage served at that dinner party tasted good.

    1. When the list was down to 4, I wrote to Trump to choose Barrett. Trump pocked this Ivy indoctrinated, Beltway brat. Trump deserved the consequence of that sick confirmation hearing. Kavanaugh will disappoint conservatives.

      1. He already has.

      2. When was ‘the list’ ever down to 4? And why pick Barret who was never on ‘the list’, but was a GOPe addition?

  2. Good thing for the left that Republicans like to nominate wishy washy centrists instead of inveterate partisans so we can have the Court full of Roberts and Kavanaughs who often bolt to the point where you might not even consider them part of the conservative wing anymore despite the Left having launched major campaigns to character assassinate them. The Court probably would have been >=8-1 stacked with Scalias for years now if the GOP had a brain. Oh well, If only we all had opponents this laughably weak and forgiving.

    1. Maybe the fact that the “inveterate partisans” are batshit crazy has something to do with it. It’s a thought.

    2. Just to be clear: no intelligent person thinks that Roberts and Kavanaugh are not part of the conservative wing of the Court.

      And in case you missed the insult: if you think Roberts and Kavanaugh are not part of the conservative wing of the Court, you are not intelligent.

  3. “I don’t think Thomas or Alito gives a shit what The New York Times says about them,” one friend told me. “But I think Brett does.”

    OK, grain of salt since this is from “a friend,” but why did you guys nominate Kavanaugh?

    Oh, that’s right. . . sycophancy was rampant during the Trump presidency.

    1. “was”?

    2. “why did you guys nominate Kavanaugh?”

      51-49 Senate including Collins and Murcowski. Had to have a conservative but not too conservative nominee.

  4. So why was he appointed? Was he thought to be reliably anti-abortion despite being otherwise unprincipled?

    1. I think it was a deal with Kennedy to retire. And he reminds me very much of Kennedy. You could do worse, but no prize.

      1. We’ll probably never be sure about this, but “a deal with Kennedy to retire” would be the smart way to bet.

  5. These were unkind comments by Professor Blackman. I don’t think Justice Kavenaugh has been on SCoTUS long enough to make any substantive call on his philosophy or impact. He is being portrayed as an empty vessel, more or less. Total rubbish.

    Let’s talk again in 2029, after Kavenaugh has been on SCoTUS for a decade. It takes at least that long to flesh out a Justice.

    1. Wasn’t Kavanaugh on the DC Circuit for 12 years? What was his extensive track record there? Not too good.

    2. He certainly broke with Roberts on the covid religious liberty cases, and the NY Rifle and Pistol case seems to indicate that he is on board with the other conservatives on the right to bear arms. I think Roberts believes in a right to bear arms too, but he doesn’t think it’s important enough to piss anyone off over it.

      1. I think that would be more accurately, “important enough to piss off anti-gunners over it”, because he’s certainly willing to piss us off on the other side of the fight.

    3. Yes – I am disappointed in Blackman for this congeries of gossip. Undignified.

  6. “sweatily striving for power without any grounding in conviction or principle.”

    You’d think Josh would sympathize with someone described in such terms. But I guess when you hold up a mirror. . .

      1. No, I don’t think I will.

        1. Josh does not understand what I learned in high school. However, he is very knowledgeable, energetic, and his heart is in the right place. Pretty good for a lawyer. He is also an excellent conversation starter. I think we can agree on that last description.

  7. A judge who sometimes compromises and is an unprincipled power-seeker? A justice who throws a dinner party for a new justice is a scheming plotter?

    These seem highly twisted, perversely negative spins on what strike me as fairly ordinary judicial activities that could easily be interpreted as the behavior of ethical people.

    I am more inclined to think there must be something ethically wrong with the people who spin things this way than the people they are spinning them about. Sometimes, too much intemperate mud-throwing says more about the mud’s source than about its destination.

    These existance of these sorts of perversely twist mud-throwing fits in publications that previously had a reputation for serious and principled intellectual commentary says a great deal about the decline in the political culture of our republic, the increasing precariousness of the republic in the face of demonizing partisan venom of the sort this post all too clearly illustrates, and the increasing likelihood that one or the other side will destroy the republic in order to save it from the perceived demons on the other side.

    1. The idea that you’re either in our pocket or evil is completely antithetical to a constitutional republic. I’d rather live at peace in a society with bad laws than live in a society where it’s considsered routinely acceptable to think that if people disagree with you, they must be motivated by hate or evil intent.

      That thinking leads inevitably, inexorably, to civil war and totalitarianism.

      As we are seeing.

      I disagreed with it when liberals did it. I disagreed with when conservatives did it. I disagreed with it when Trump did it. I disagree with it now.

      Behold! Here, see before you, what it leads to! Turn back whole you still can, before it gets even worse.

      We’re not yet killing each other on large nimbers. If it gets worse, we could be.

      1. We should visit the oligarchs that are attacking our nation. Killing millions of people trying to live ordinary lives is a waste of time.

      2. It’s almost like Blackman is extremely prone to hyperbole. See all of his death of the Republic articles re: Democrats ending the filibuster, admitting new states, packing the Court, etc.

    2. These seem highly twisted, perversely negative spins on what strike me as fairly ordinary judicial activities that could easily be interpreted as the behavior of ethical people.

      I am more inclined to think there must be something ethically wrong with the people who spin things this way than the people they are spinning them about. Sometimes, too much intemperate mud-throwing says more about the mud’s source than about its destination.

      This.

      Though I’d also add the bizarre claim that Justice Kagan being collegial with a new colleague was somehow a nefarious scheme rather than just ordinary friendliness.

  8. Never trust a frat rat — Kavanaugh is the typical ’80s frat rat.

  9. I’m confused: is “meritocrat” an accusation now?

    1. It has Bourgeois written all over it.

    2. It is when it means the obsessive gathering of conventional glittering baubles of credentials — the “right” schools, the check off the box resume, etc. — by someone who is not, or not sufficiently, on your side. (Seriously, what middle-aged man still has his calendars from high school? And what kind of dweeb had them in the first place?)
      Hence, certain public figures with exactly those well-ordered and conventional credentials are insufferable elitists who condescend to and seek to lord it over the salt of the earth and the common clay. See, for example, Ted (nobody in my law school study group who went to a lesser Ivy) Cruz and Josh (prep school, Stanford, Yale Law) Hawley. Oops, sorry about that. They’re tribunes of the people.

  10. “Coppins quotes another Kavanaugh ally who worries that the Justice will drift to the right”

    Doesn’t the quote cited indicate the concern is that Kav will try to “appease the left” by drifting left, not right?

  11. “First, Coppins explains that (Chief) Justice Kagan made an early play for Kavanaugh’s vote.”

    Did Roberts retire while I was sleeping? Someone needs to edit this added parenthetical or change Kagan to Roberts.

  12. While I am not a scholar of SCOTUS I will offer this layperson’s observation. The Court often has one maybe two firebrands espousing strong opinions either conservative or liberal. Most others are hard working, listening to the case, reading the briefs, making considered decisions and writing opinions. I suspect that this is the group where you will find Kavanaugh. There is nothing to suggest differently at this point and things are unlikely to change.

    1. Who are the firebrands. usually the firebrands are good writters. On the left you have Kagan. On the right? My LRW proffessor used to include Alito and Thomas dissents as lectures how not to write. Gorsuch seems too timid to be the firebrand. There’s no scalia.

  13. As they played in the same poker game. these days mnay people are playing poker game and matka daily.

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