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Brett Kavanaugh will follow in Anthony Kennedy's collegial Supreme Court footsteps

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By Nick Harper, Travis Lenkner, Richard Re, Caroline Van Zile, and Justin Walker, USA TODAY

It was a quarter-century ago when Brett Kavanaugh first met Anthony Kennedy, during an interview for a job as one of the justice’s law clerks. Now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and nominated to replace Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court, Judge Kavanaugh likely tried to remember the lessons he later would teach his own students and clerks: Be yourself, smile in spite of your nerves, and show what you know without looking showy. As former clerks to both Kavanaugh and Kennedy, we have heard that advice time and again.

Kavanaugh has an inspiring work ethic

In Justice Kennedy, Kavanaugh found an unfailingly polite lawyer’s lawyer with disarming warmth who just happened to be a pivotal voice on the Supreme Court of the United States. For his part, Kennedy found just what he was hoping for in a young law clerk: a whip-smart go-getter who shared his boss’ love for baseball, U.S. history and the law.

As young lawyers who clerked first for Kavanaugh and then for Kennedy, we frequently heard Kennedy sing Kavanaugh’s praises. “Brett was always at his desk working hard,” Kennedy often told us. “I’d say, ‘Brett, you’re here when I arrive in the morning, and you’re here when I leave at night. You’ve got to go home some time!’ But then the next morning he’d be right there at that desk, working away.”

Having witnessed Kavanaugh toil away on nights, weekends and holidays in his own chambers, we learned firsthand about the work ethic Kennedy so admired in his former clerk. And we have been inspired by both men’s passion for civility, independence and the rule of law.

Kavanaugh and Kennedy are models of civil, collegial judging. Kavanaugh impressed upon us the importance of learning how to “disagree without being disagreeable.” Kennedy encouraged us to prioritize collegiality in our courtroom conduct and our relationships with other lawyers. Each jurist has served with more than a dozen other judges and bridged philosophical differences to form friendships with colleagues.

Both men are examples of judicial fairness

Kavanaugh and Kennedy also exemplify fair-mindedness and independence. By hiring clerks from the left, right and center — consider us Exhibit A — both judges have made sure that their chambers are home to diverse perspectives and lively debates. And by breaking with Republican-appointed colleagues, both have shown that they go where the law takes them, without passion or prejudice for any litigating party or political position.

Kavanaugh, moreover, has frequently led the federal judiciary in independent directions that the Supreme Court has followed. On 14 occasions, Kavanaugh has written an opinion that the Supreme Court later vindicated or adopted, including in unanimous decisions. That is an impressive record in light of the difficult nature of those few cases that the Supreme Court considers each year. Anyone wondering where Kavanaugh and Kennedy agree on issues like privacy, free speech and separation of powers should begin with those 14 opinions.

Both Kavanaugh and Kennedy revere the law. They are the sons of hardworking lawyers; in Judge Kavanaugh’s case, his mother was a prosecutor and trial judge. Each found his calling at an early age and has spent a lifetime in the law’s service. In addition to his 43 years on the federal bench, Kennedy has taught the rule of law to students in China, trained judges from Iraq, and designed a “Dialogue on Freedom” curriculum for countless high school students. Similarly, Kavanaugh passed up lucrative private-sector jobs in favor of public service and teaching.

To be sure, Brett Kavanaugh and Anthony Kennedy do not agree on every important legal issue. And, if confirmed, Kavanaugh is bound to chart his own course as a justice, distinct from Kennedy’s. But those of us lucky enough to have clerked for both of them believe that the president chose a great judge and a good man to succeed his former boss.

Nick Harper, Travis Lenkner, Richard Re, Caroline Van Zile and Justin Walker clerked for Judge Brett Kavanaugh and for Justice Anthony Kennedy.

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Brett Kavanaugh will follow in Anthony Kennedy's collegial Supreme Court footsteps
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