(July 23, 2018 / JNS) In the weeks since the nomination by U.S. President Donald Trump of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, American Jewish organizations have expressed mixed reactions to his sitting on the highest bench in the country. Those reactions generally reflected where each group stands on the ideological spectrum, ranging from celebration by groups that advocate for religious liberty to denunciation by those that support abortion rights.
The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, for one, applauded the move.
“As an organization devoted to protecting people’s ability to follow the tenets of their faith without interference from the government, JCRL welcomes this nomination, and is confident that Judge Kavanaugh’s dedication to a consistent application of the original public meaning of both the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses will continue to secure this liberty for future generations,” said JCRL general counsel Howard Slugh.
“JCRL looks forward to seeing Justice Kavanaugh sitting on the bench in October,” he added.
The Republican Jewish Coalition echoed Slugh’s sentiment.
“Congratulations to Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his family,” the RJC posted on Twitter. “@POTUS made another great pick. We look forward to his confirmation!”
RJC director Norm Coleman, a former Minnesota senator, tweeted that the D.C. Circuit Court judge “possesses the requisite intellect & integrity that should easily insure his confirmation.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Anti-Defamation League expressed opposition immediately following the announcement.
“We are concerned 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,” ADL CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.
“Because he has written and spoken prolifically on many issues of deep concern, we believe his positions merit close scrutiny,” added Greenblatt. “These include his demonstrated hostility to reproductive freedom, and his past support for greatly expanded and unchecked executive power.”
Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, outright condemned the pick. “President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, is an affront to the values and priorities of a vast majority of the American Jewish community,” she said.
“From workers’ rights to civil rights, from reproductive rights to LGBTQ rights and immigrants’ rights, this nominee’s track record is hostile toward the issues our community has fought for over generations, and he has no business serving on the court,” added Cotler.
The National Council of Jewish Women mirrored Cotler’s reaction. “Kavanaugh … dissented from rulings upholding the Affordable Care Act and claims that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional,” said NCJW CEO Nancy Kaufman. “He routinely decides for the powerful against the powerless when safety, equality, consumer rights, the environment and workers protections are at stake.”
However, former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau attorney Ronald Rubin refuted Kaufman’s take on Kavanaugh and consumer protection.
“Judge Kavanaugh’s opinion that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional was not a decision ‘for the powerful against the powerless,’ or an attempt to weaken consumer rights,” Rubin told JNS. “He correctly concluded that the Constitution does not permit an agency with such far-reaching powers to be led by a single director who can’t be fired by the president, especially since Congress can’t cut the agency’s budget.”
Some agencies holding back for now
Meanwhile, groups like the American Jewish Committee have sought to express a more moderate view.
“While there is little doubt that Judge Kavanaugh has the technical qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court to fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, that by no means alone qualifies the nominee,” AJC General Counsel Marc Stern said in a statement. “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.”
As part of his statement, in which Stern remarked on AJC’s nonpartisan advocacy for the separation of church and state, religious liberty and other social issues, 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.”
When asked by JNS if AJC plans to take a side over the nomination, spokesperson Ken Bandler commented: “Our statement stands.”
Religious political groups, including the Orthodox Union and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, have not issued statements regarding the nomination.
OU chairman Nathan Diament told JNS that his organization does not take a stance on Supreme Court nominees. Instead, it reviews their record on religious liberty, which he said is “a constitutional right fundamental to the Orthodox Jewish community’s being able to thrive in the United States as a minority faith in which we, therefore, have a unique stake.” Afterwards, he said, the OU may decide to write an assessment to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The RAC told JNS that it is still formulating a position on the nomination.
Those in the field have a say
Finally, reactions have come from prominent individuals in the Jewish community.
“I was proud to have Judge Kavanaugh swear me in as Deputy Secretary,” Tevi Troy, who served in that role at the Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, told JNS. “And [I] am excited at the prospect of Justice Kavanaugh on the bench.”
Brooke Goldstein, an acclaimed human-rights lawyer, praised the nomination and slammed the extreme reaction from progressives.
“The nomination has become somewhat ‘controversial,’ and we see hysteria surrounding it because some want to see the judiciary legislate from the bench and implement significant changes they want to see in our society through the courts as opposed to the legislature,” Goldstein told JNS.
“Justice Kavanaugh doesn’t seem to be the man to do that,” she added. “At the same time, the idea that a Supreme Court with Justice Kavanaugh serving on it would purposefully choose a case to overrule Roe v. Wade, established legal precedent, is asinine.”
Yet Democratic strategist Mark Mellman expressed alarm over Kavanaugh. “Ask yourself how many of the public’s desires for a justice are going to be accommodated by President Trump’s selection of Brett Kavanaugh,” he wrote in The Hill.
Mellman concluded, “I fear, almost none.”