Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's front-row view of Washington's main businesses — regulation and legislation — has observers of the high court preparing for a change, particularly when it comes to what federal regulators can and cannot do, if he is confirmed.
For the past 12 years, Mr. Kavanaugh has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where foes and defenders of federal regulations often take their disputes. His rulings there have given court observers the strongest clues to what his approach at the Supreme Court might be, particularly when it comes to how much deference should be given to federal regulators, as opposed to strict interpretations of the underlying statutes.
"On the federal bench, he is the biggest thinker when it comes to administrative law. He's now going to have a national stage to talk about the proper role of the administrative state," said Christopher J. Walker, associate professor of law, in Columbus, at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Mr. Walker, who has served in all three branches of the federal government, also clerked for the justice whom Mr. Kavanaugh would replace, Anthony M. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy often served as the swing vote on a court that, for now, is evenly divided between conservatives and liberals.
Mr. Kavanaugh also would bring White House experience to the court, having served as associate counsel and staff secretary under President George W. Bush, and with independent counsel Kenneth Starr investigating the Clinton White House. Mr. Kavanaugh has since advocated for overturning a Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of an independent counsel, arguing a sitting president should have "as few distractions as possible."
He is best known for his legal opinions and writings critical of Chevron deference, a principle of administrative law that requires courts, when interpreting statutes, to defer to the government agencies that enforce them, unless those interpretations are unreasonable. It has been the prevailing principle since a 1984 Supreme Court ruling in Chevron U.S.A. Inc. vs. Natural Resources Defense Council Inc., in a dispute over the Environmental Protection Agency's interpretation of a provision of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977.