In Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump has nominated a highly respected and experienced jurist who deeply understands and faithfully applies the U.S. Constitution.
That timeless document is the world’s oldest written constitution still in effect, and the first truly successful one. It effectively created the concept of popular sovereignty — the very American idea that a nation’s political power and authority is vested in the people, not in a king or queen, and that a government legitimately wields that power and authority only when it holds the consent of the governed.
Our constitution is great not just for the rights it guarantees, but for the structure it established for our government: a separation of powers, and checks and balances to keep each of three branches solidly in control of their purview. Like a centuries-old family lighthouse built on Maine’s granite coastal cliffs, the United States has endured the tides and winds of history atop a firm foundation provided by the greatest legal document ever conceived.
The men and women our president selects, and our Senate confirms, to safeguard this sacred document must therefore be gifted with extraordinary brilliance and wisdom, matched with a profound understanding of our constitution and laws and due deference to past interpretations of them. The president has chosen a nominee who meets these expectation of intelligence and respect for precedent. His selection came from a public list of highly qualified potential nominees. Kavanaugh has emerged as the most qualified candidate. His wide praise by legal scholars of both liberal and conservative bents has confirmed the strength of the president’s choice.
Kavanaugh has served on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for the past 12 years, authoring some 300 opinions, many of which have already influenced Supreme Court opinions on gun rights and religious freedom. His office serves as a “farm team” for Supreme Court clerkships, with 39 of his 48 clerks going on to serve the justices of the nation’s highest court. Kavanaugh is a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School and a graduate of Yale Law School. He served as a senior aide in the George W. Bush White House and worked in private practice for one of the nation’s most prestigious law firms. He clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose seat he is now nominated to fill.
Kavanaugh’s service extends to his community, where he coaches a Catholic youth basketball team, helps feed the homeless, and tutors elementary school children. Kavanaugh is living proof that there are still genuinely decent people in our government.
Kavanaugh is an “originalist,” which means he believes judges should interpret our Constitution the way they interpret a legislature’s statutes — by faithfully applying the text of the document as it was originally understood by those who enacted it. It does not mean he believes our society should look the way it did in the late 18th century — only that the wishes of the people, who enacted our constitution and its amendments, should be respected. Originalists like Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch believe in the foundational American principles of popular sovereignty and the democratic process. They encourage the people to get active in lobbying for policy changes and constitutional amendments that they see fit. They understand that the constitution does not vest policymaking decisions in nine unelected lawyers in black robes, but in millions of free Americans who are far better suited to determine matters of social change and economic policy. Scalia often said that good judges reach outcomes that they personally disagree with.
An originalist judicial philosophy is essential to maintaining the careful system of checks and balances that the founders laid out in our magnificent constitution. Originalism requires historical and intellectual curiosity to understand what the people or their representatives intended when they enacted a law or a constitutional provision. It requires humility to avoid overstepping the bounds of judicial authority. And it requires intelligent and clear communication skills to share important decisions with lower courts and with the people who must live within the framework of those decisions.
By all accounts, Kavanaugh possesses the curiosity, humility, intelligence, and communication style required of a justice on our nation’s highest court. The Senate should confirm him with a broad, bipartisan majority.
Karl Ward of Dedham represents District 131 in the Maine House. He is also president and CEO of Nickerson & O’Day, Inc., Constructors of Brewer.
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