Battle Supreme: Centrist Jewish Groups Express Concern Over Kavanaugh


In 2000, before he became a judge, Brett Kavanaugh represented, pro bono, a Reconstructionist Synagogue in suburban Maryland over its right to build a temple in an area zoned for single-family lots. A group of home owners in the area took the synagogue to court, asserting that the law allowing “churches … and other places of worship” to be built in the area was illegal because it endorsed religion.

The judge in the U.S. District Court dismissed the motion and upheld the congregation’s right to build.

Cases like this one, that touched on religious liberty, and many others, are being reviewed carefully by Jewish groups and others this week in the wake of President Trump’s nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, who has spent more than a decade on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, D.C., to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

Not surprisingly, liberal Jewish groups expressed deep concern over Judge Kavanaugh’s record, particularly on issues of women’s reproductive rights, health care, LGBTQ rights and the right of workers to organize, while conservative groups praised his rulings as consistent with the Founding Fathers’ interpretation of the Constitution.

The Orthodox Union, the major Orthodox membership group in the U.S., has a policy not to endorse or oppose Supreme Court nominees before the Senate for confirmation. “What we have done in recent years, and will do now,” according to Nathan Diament, executive director of the OU’s Advocacy Center in Washington, D.C., “is review” Judge Kavanaugh’s record on cases dealing with religious liberty — “a constitutional right fundamental to the Orthodox Jewish community’s being able to thrive in the U.S. as a minority faith in which we, therefore, have a unique stake.”

The American Jewish Committee, in an uncharacteristically strong statement, noted that “while there is little doubt that Judge Kavanaugh has the technical qualification to serve on the Supreme Court … that by no means alone qualifies the nominee. No less important is the nominee’s openness to arguments that challenge his own views and previously expressed beliefs, a robust commitment to protecting the liberties the Constitution guarantees, and assuring all citizens the equal protection of the laws.”

“Moreover,” the statement by AJC general counsel Marc Stern said, “the Senate should not confirm a nominee who comes to the bench with the intention of radically and systematically rewriting American constitutional law.”

The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern that Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial record “does not reflect the demonstrated independence and commitment to fair treatment for all that is necessary to merit a seat on our nation’s highest court.” Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s CEO and national director, said the nomination is particularly important because “hard-fought progress in LGBT rights, voting rights and women’s rights are threatened, and immigrants and vulnerable communities in our country are under attack.”

The battle over the nomination is expected to be unprecedented in its intensity, though it appears the Republicans have the votes for Judge Kavanaugh, 53, to win and to serve for decades.