TIME

Uncertain Justice

BRETT KAVANAUGH AND THE FATE OF THE NEW SUPREME COURT
In his first term, Kavanaugh (second row, far right) has been less predictable than his allies hoped or his critics feared

Who is Brett Kavanaugh? That may seem like an odd question. For a few weeks last September, the world learned almost everything about Kavanaugh: his tenure as a judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals and as a White House lawyer for President George W. Bush; his privileged education in Maryland and New Haven, Conn.; and most of all, the allegation that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were in high school. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings left few Americans without an opinion about him.

But now that Kavanaugh is on the court, who he is matters more than ever. The 54-year-old lifetime appointee replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, who for decades occupied the swing seat on the bench, casting the decisive vote on legalizing same-sex marriage, protecting corporations’ political spending and affirming an individual right to own guns. Those issues and more may hang on what kind of Justice that Kavanaugh becomes and how he votes.

The process is less predictable than anyone who watched the confirmation battle might suspect. Kavanaugh could veer hard to the right, as Justice Clarence Thomas did after Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings in 1991. He could settle toward the center, as Kennedy did after the contentious nomination battles over Robert Bork in 1987. Or he could become something more complicated than the most fervent agonists on either side expect.

As his first term ends, everyone—from Kavanaugh’s oldest friends to his fiercest detractors, from clerks to court watchers to his eight new colleagues—is scrutinizing the new Justice for signs of where he will take the court. A close look at Kavanaugh’s voting this term reveals that he is more reliably conservative than Kennedy, helping to push the court right since his confirmation. He has formed an influential alliance with Chief Justice John Roberts and, to a lesser extent,

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