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Brett Kavanaugh Lauds Friends, Fellow Justices In First Speech Since Bitter Confirmation

Credit: Federalist Society

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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Justice Brett Kavanaugh received heroic accolades at a glittering Federalist Society dinner in Washington’s Union Station Thursday, where he delivered his first public remarks since his contentious confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh gave a punchy and light-hearted speech, punctuated in spaces with emotional recollections of his nomination to the high court.

“Last year a lot of my friends put themselves on the line for me,” Kavanaugh said. “People risked their jobs and livelihoods. Some of them lost business. They were yelled at, insulted threatened.”

“I’m on a lifetime mission to thank all my friends,” he said elsewhere, noting many of them were present at Thursday’s gala.

The justice momentarily lost his composure as he recalled the prayers his daughters offered while his nomination was pending. “Matt Damon would have made it through this,” he quipped, in reference to Saturday Night Live’s rendering of his second confirmation hearing.

In that vein, the justice approvingly cited the hymn “Be Not Afraid,” which he described as a source of strength while his confirmation was pending. Kavanaugh is a Roman Catholic.

Speaking warmly of his fellow justices, Kavanaugh praised his new colleagues as models of hard work, patriotism, and collegiality. In particular, he cited the example of Justice Clarence Thomas helping Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to and from the bench during oral arguments. Though he conceded both are quite different judges, he said their relationship symbolized the court’s enduring generosity.

As the junior justice, Kavanaugh is obliged to serve on the Supreme Court’s cafeteria committee, an assignment generally understood as something like hazing. During Thursday’s speech, Kavanaugh made a legacy play and announced that the court’s cafeteria will soon feature pizza.

“It will be fine by me if I’m forever known as the pizza justice,” Kavanaugh joked.

Another court tradition provides that the second most-junior justice must organize a welcome dinner for the newest member of the bench. That task fell to Justice Neil Gorsuch, who arranged to host the Washington Nationals’s “Racing Presidents” for an evening. Mascots George Washington and Thomas Jefferson raced through the high court’s great hall, with Chief Justice John Roberts judging from the finish line.

Washington prevailed in the race, Kavanaugh said, dealing Jefferson another stinging defeat in the Supreme Court. That was a nerdy reference to the foundational Marbury v. Madison decision, which established the judicial power to review legislation for its constitutionality. The ruling was a defeat for the young Jefferson administration.

Gorsuch and Justice Samuel Alito were on hand to fete their junior colleague, along with various dignitaries from Congress and the Trump administration, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Attorney General William Barr.

Outside the event, demonstrators chanted anti-Kavanaugh slogans and distributed literature urging the justice’s impeachment. Demand Justice, a leftwing judicial group, organized the protests, and screened footage of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee from a large screen mounted to a flatbed. (RELATED: The Supreme Court Looks Ready To Uphold Trump’s Bid To End DACA)

Kavanaugh avoids limelight after bitter confirmation

Since ascending to the high court in October 2018, Kavanaugh has generally kept a low profile. Most Americans would likely be surprised to discover a justice they remember as defiant tends to follow an even-keel on the bench. Kavanaugh’s tone and presentation during oral arguments is mostly understated, and he tends to defer to his senior colleagues before asking questions of the advocates.

Thus far, his writings have followed that same bent. His opinion are muted and prosaic — unlike some of his colleagues who prefer a rhetorical flourish — and often have a workmanlike focus.

When he does leave the confines of the court, Kavanaugh largely keeps to friendly venues like Maryland’s Chevy Chase Club, a private retreat for Washington’s elite where discretion is the better part of partisanship. He also taught a summer course in the United Kingdom on the origins of the Constitution with George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, whose faculty skews libertarian by reputation.

The Federalist Society’s annual convention was, therefore, a logical venue for his first speech as a justice. It was also familiar. Kavanaugh said he has attended the conservative lawyers group’s annual conclave for years, and was reliably informed he is one of the few judicial nominees who regularly paid dues.

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