WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh says the public shouldn’t read anything into the high court’s historically slow start to releasing opinions.
Every year the justices begin hearing cases in October and generally finish their work by the end of June before going on a summer break. This term, however, they went more than three months without resolving any cases in which they heard arguments. On Monday, the justices finally announced a unanimous decision in one case and dismissed another.
Some observers wondered whether the slow pace could be the result of a variety of factors: a change in the court’s makeup with the addition of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, less consensus on a deeply divided bench or the consequences of last term’s leak of a draft opinion in the case that overturned a half-century of abortion rights.
Kavanaugh downplayed the court’s slow pace.
“I am confident they’ll all be out by the end of June. So I don’t think anyone needs to worry. … It’s just a coincidence of which mix of cases were in October and November,” Kavanaugh said during an appearance at the University of Notre Dame’s law school on Monday, the same day the term’s first opinion was announced. Kavanaugh was at the law school and not on the bench to hear Justice Amy Coney Barrett announce the opinion in a veterans disability case.
Kavanaugh was not asked during the appearance about last term’s abortion decision leak, though he mentioned it obliquely, calling last term a “difficult year at the court.” Kavanaugh, who ultimately voted in favor of overturning abortion rights, was the target of protests and an assassination threat after the leak.
Kavanaugh was also not asked about a new documentary that looks into the sexual misconduct allegations against him that surfaced during his 2018 confirmation hearing. Kavanaugh denied those allegations.
Kavanaugh talked about a range of other topics, including his experience going to Catholic schools and how it shaped him, the relationships among the justices and his experience working for President George W. Bush before becoming a judge. He talked with Notre Dame law school dean G. Marcus Cole during a conversation that lasted about an hour.
“My experience with the court — in my four and a half years and at this moment — is there are great relations among all nine justices, both personally and professionally. … We only get tough cases. We disagree on some of those. I think that’s more nuanced than sometimes is portrayed,” he said of the court, which is now divided 6-3 between conservatives and liberals.
Kavanaugh also weighed in on a recent controversy over U.S. News & World Report law school rankings that led to a boycott by a number of top programs.
“I think those ratings are very problematic. They’re based on things, from what I understand, that are very amorphous, very subjective, very word-of-mouth factors that don’t correlate well with education you’re actually receiving,” said Kavanaugh, who attended Yale Law School, the first to withdraw from the rankings.
Though Kavanaugh spoke at Notre Dame on Monday, a video of the appearance was first made public Thursday.
The court is currently on a break. The justices will return to the bench at the end of February when they’ll hear arguments in cases involving President Joe Biden’s student loan cancellation program, two important internet cases and another case about pandemic-era limits on asylum known as Title 42.