Political News

Judge Kavanaugh’s Former Clerks: Diverse, and Deployed to Vouch for Him

Posted July 11, 2018 1:32 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Part of the White House public relations campaign to win confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court began only seconds after President Donald Trump nominated him, when Kavanaugh gave a shoutout to his former law clerks and effectively called on them as character witnesses.

“As a judge, I hire four law clerks each year,” Kavanaugh said Monday night in remarks at the White House. “I look for the best. My law clerks come from diverse backgrounds and points of view. I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women.”

Of the 48 clerks who worked for Kavanaugh over 12 years on the U.S.Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 25 were women, said Katie Wellington, who worked for him in 2014, when all four clerks were women, including Usha Chilukuri Vance, who now clerks for Chief Justice John Roberts.

The Class of 2014 “was the first year that any judge on the D.C. Circuit had hired four female law clerks,” said Wellington, now an associate at Hogan Lovells in Washington. “It was important to him. His mother was a judge,” she said, adding that 20 of Kavanaugh’s female law clerks have clerked on the Supreme Court.

Many of those women — and men — are now deployed to vouch for Kavanaugh in a campaign coordinated by CRC Public Relations, a Washington firm whose conservative clients include the Federalist Society, according to its website. The Federalist Society, which functions as a conduit for conservative appointments to the federal courts, supplied Trump with a list of two dozen reliable conservatives from which he chose Kavanaugh and before him, Neil Gorsuch.

By 9:07 p.m. Monday, while Trump was still introducing Kavanaugh to the country, a query from CRC landed in reporters’ inboxes: “Would you be interested in speaking with any of the former Judge Kavanaugh clerks? Below are statements for your stories.”

The quotes resembled book jacket blurbs, praising Kavanaugh’s “herculean work ethic,” “deep and nuanced understanding of the law” and “overriding commitment to do justice in every case.” They depicted Kavanaugh as “thinking more rigorously and working more ferociously than any of us,” laboring “on the 100th draft of an opinion (literally) while we both split a Domino’s pizza,” and giving a clerk who gave birth to a son “a copy of ‘Good Night, Gorilla,’ with a thoughtful note.”

Sarah Pitlyk, a former clerk who is now special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit law firm that litigates on behalf of anti-abortion groups, said in her statement that Kavanaugh was “an exemplary judge: brilliant, principled and faithful to the text.” Some of the statements went beyond jurisprudence. “The last time I ran in a 10K with Judge Kavanaugh, I was 30 and he was 47, and he smoked me! He’s run two Boston marathons — which is two more than I’ve run,” said Justin Walker, a clerk from 2010-11 who is now an assistant professor of law at the University of Louisville.

Another touched on fashion advice. “Early in my clerkship, the judge called me into his office and said he noticed that my collar was curling up in front,” wrote Eric Hansford, a clerk from 2011-12 who is now an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington. “He pulled down his tie, took the collar stays out his own shirt, and handed them to me. The next morning, I came in to find a pile of collar stays on my chair. I still use those collar stays.”

An endorsement letter signed by 34 former clerks — “every single one of Judge Kavanaugh’s clerks not prohibited by their current or pending employment from signing,” according to the letter — was also sent to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is the committee’s ranking member.

“We never once saw him take a shortcut, treat a case as unimportant, or search for an easy answer,” the letter reads. “Instead, in each case, large or small, he masters every detail and rereads every precedent. He listens carefully to the views of his colleagues and clerks, even — indeed, especially — when they differ from his own.”

The letter points out that the former clerks now serve as “prosecutors, professors, state and federal public officials, and attorneys at private law firms, corporations, and nonprofits,” adding, “Our ranks include Republicans, Democrats, and independents.” Two of Kavanaugh’s former clerks are married: John Bash, a clerk from 2006-07, finished his year with Kavanaugh a month before his wife, Zina Bash, signed on. Bash went on to clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, and Bash, for Justice Samuel Alito. Bash is the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, and Bash is senior counsel for Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general. Bash was previously Trump’s special assistant for regulatory reform, legal and immigration policy.

Bash’s statement praised Kavanaugh’s “personal integrity, intellectual rigor, fairness, open-mindedness and fundamental decency.” Bash called Kavanaugh “an enthusiastic role model to so many women.” In emails, the couple said they were not speaking in an official capacity.

Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice, a progressive group urging Democrats to vote against any nominee on conservative groups’ list of preferred candidates, said the focus on Kavanaugh’s staff is part of “a purposeful effort to cast himself in a light that is favorable to women because he’s anticipating that his views on abortion and contraception are going to be major issues in his confirmation.”

Fallon added that “the whole reason for the Federalist Society short list was to ensure that Trump is adhering to their key views, including on abortion.” Wellington sidestepped the politics.

“It’s a unique relationship,” she said of the bond between Kavanagh and the four women who were his clerks in 2014 and 2015. “You spend an entire year with just five people and you work quite closely with the judge, you learn his writing style, the way he approaches cases and precedent. You get to see him as a pre-eminent figure in the legal community, but also as an everyday person.”