When Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, stepped to the podium Monday to describe his values to Americans hearing his name for the first time, the D.C. circuit court judge spoke about how his worldview on racial matters was shaped by his mother, who taught at “largely African American” schools in Washington.
“Her example taught me the importance of equality for all Americans,” Kavanaugh said. He did not stop there with demonstrating his commitment to equality, as The Fix’s Aaron Blake wrote.
But organizations that deal with issues that are priorities for black Americans are expressing concern about what Kavanaugh’s confirmation could mean for the future of civil rights.
The National Urban League, an organization focused on economic issues related to people of color, put out a statement describing its worries about the future of civil rights for marginalized communities under a court that includes Kavanaugh.
“Judge Kavanaugh has a record of ruling against affordable health care and women’s reproductive rights,” Urban League president Marc Morial said in the statement. “Particularly troubling is his record on cases involving racial and workforce discrimination. Seating a Supreme Court nominee with an obvious disdain for fundamental liberties will change American life as we know it.”
The NAACP released a statement warning the judge’s judicial philosophy could damage progress for black Americans. The liberal group said:
With a Justice Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, we could see reversals of hard-won gains securing equal opportunity in education, employment and housing. We could see further exclusion of communities of color from participation in our democracy. We could see racism continue to flourish within the criminal justice system. We could see the elimination of effective tools for proving discrimination. We could see the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the guarantee to accessible health care for millions.
Leslie Proll, the former policy director for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, tweeted that voting rights in particular could be under threat with Kavanaugh on the bench in part based on his response to the Obama Justice Department blocking a voter identification law it found discriminatory.
The Obama administration concluded in 2011 that a South Carolina voter identification law would disadvantage more than 80,000 of people of color by requiring government-issued photo identification to vote. But Kavanaugh chose to uphold the law in 2012, writing in his opinion that it allowed citizens who lacked a photo voter registration card to still vote as long as they explained why they did not have a card. And he argued the qualifying photo IDs list had been expanded and it was much easier to obtain a qualifying photo ID than before.
In 1999, Kavanaugh wrote an amicus brief for the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank that opposes affirmative action in the college admissions process, about when it is appropriate for the government to use affirmative action. In his brief, Kavanaugh argued it was unconstitutional to prohibit people who are not Native Hawaiians from voting for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs because it discriminates on the basis of race. The Supreme Court agreed with a 7-2 decision.
That ruling, though not related to education, is the closest window into his views on affirmative action, a topic that could reach the highest court due to ongoing lawsuits against elite universities about the use of race in admissions. The Washington Post previously reported that Harvard University is under investigation by the Justice Department for its use of race in admissions.
However, when questioned about the brief as a part of his 2004 confirmation for the D.C. Circuit Court, Kavanaugh said:
The Supreme Court has decided many cases on affirmative action programs and, if confirmed, I would faithfully follow those precedents. The Court has established detailed tests to assess whether affirmative action programs are race-based or race-neutral — and also whether they pass constitutional muster. My personal views or the views of my former clients on these or other issues would not affect how I would approach decisions as an appeals court judge. I would carefully and faithfully follow all precedent of the Supreme Court.
Given how some lawmakers of color have come out critically of Kavanaugh already, it is expected Kavanaugh will be asked about these issues. His introduction indicates he will be prepared for those questions, but his record shows he has a long way to go to allay those concerns.