WASHINGTON — In a recent public appearance, conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the Supreme Court is not as divided as the public believes, praising his liberal colleagues and highlighting rulings in which the justices were not divided along ideological lines.
Kavanaugh spoke at a Notre Dame Law School event this week, the video of which was made public on Thursday, amid a debate over whether the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, is in danger of losing legitimacy by moving sharply to the right.
The court faced harsh criticism during its previous term, which ended in June, for several rulings, most notably the decision to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent, which found that there was a constitutional right to abortion.
“All nine justices have excellent personal and professional relationships with one another. We only get difficult cases, and we disagree on some of them. “I believe that is more nuanced than it is sometimes portrayed,” he said.
Kavanaugh praised the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the recently retired liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, and Breyer’s successor, the liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, saying she “has hit the ground running” and is “thoroughly prepared.”
Ginsburg and Breyer “Couldn’t have been better at welcoming me to the court,” Kavanaugh said, referring to his nomination by then-President Donald Trump in 2018. He joined the court after barely surviving a Senate confirmation hearing in which he faced allegations of sexual misconduct dating back decades, all of which he denied. A new documentary revisits the allegations.
This week, Kavanaugh seemed eager to dispel any notion that the court is usually divided along ideological lines, citing several cases in which he joined liberal justices in 5-4 decisions.
One example was a ruling last year in favour of the Biden administration in its efforts to undo Trump’s immigration policy. He also mentioned two 5-4 decisions written by liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one in a criminal case in which the three liberals were joined in the majority by conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.
“That’s not the usual perceived lineup,” Kavanaugh said.
Statistics compiled for the SCOTUSblog legal website revealed, however, that in the previous court term, only 29% of decisions were unanimous, the lowest rate in the last two decades. 14 of the 66 cases resulted in 6-3 decisions along ideological lines.
This term, the court will hear more contentious cases, including one that could end the use of racial preferences in college admissions and two major election-related cases that could have an impact on the 2024 presidential election.
The court issued its first ruling this term in an argued case on Monday, more than a month behind schedule.
Kavanaugh downplayed the delay, saying at Notre Dame that the court was “up and running” and that it would issue all of its rulings by the end of June.