The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as the new justice of the U.S. Supreme Court means that, should he be confirmed, Kavanaugh would replace Justice Anthony Kennedy as the fifth Catholic on the court, joining Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Sonya Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas.
In the coming weeks, we will hear many details of Kavanaugh’s lengthy career in politics and law. But what could we know about his character?
In a speech given at the Columbus School of Law of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 2015, Kavanaugh outlined some of the qualities that he believed to be necessary for a good judge. But many of his comments could also give us an understanding of Brett Kavanaugh, the man.
Good judges, he said, have to display “humility and modesty.” While this certainly includes remembering a judge’s limited role — “we constantly have to remember it’s not our job to make the policy choices that belong in the political branches,” he said — it also means “having an open mind” and “a willingness to change your mind.”
“We have to constantly be learning — to remember that we’re not the font of all wisdom,” he said.
Kavanaugh added that judges also must have a “proper demeanor,” what he described as the ability to walk in the shoes of another, keeping emotions in check and demonstrating civility. “To put it in the vernacular,” he said, “don’t be a jerk.”
He emphasized the importance of learning from mistakes. We are not perfect, he said, and there is learning over time that must take place. And he also stressed the need for collegiality and to learn from your colleagues. Judges are naturally part of a collective body, he said. Making decisions in a group helps reduce error and underscores the need for having to work well with others.
Kavanaugh also said to be a good judge one has to be good at “explaining why you made the decision you made” so that it is clear and comprehensible.
While the principles outlined by Kavanaugh may make for a good judge, it is telling that they are also are the ingredients needed for a good Christian. And I suppose, with his background as a man of faith, this makes sense. In the same talk, Kavanaugh shared that the highlight of his five years working in the President George W. Bush White House was the 2004 trip to the Vatican when President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Pope St. John Paul II. “He was such a great example of someone who stood for principle in the face of tyranny ... and was a model for all of us,” Kavanaugh said of the pope.
Should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed as the next justice of the Supreme Court, let us pray that he will be consistent in upholding these principles that compose a good judge, yes, but also a good Christian.