Insights Offered on Working in the White House and Judicial Nomination Gridlock

Posted on Categories Judges & Judicial Process, President & Executive Branch, Public, Sports & Law


It was three years from the time Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President George W. Bush to be a federal appeals court judge to the time when his nomination was approved in 2006. That certainly gave him a first-hand look at the difficulties of getting a federal judicial nominee approved by the U.S. Senate.

“It’s been a mess for decades,” Kavanaugh, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said Wednesday during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School. Republicans have held up appointments by Democratic presidents. Democrats have help up appointments by Republican presidents.

Kavanaugh would not comment specifically on the current high-profile part of this recurring “mess,” in which President Barrack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court has met a wall of Republican opposition in the Senate.

But Kavanaugh repeated a position he has held for years, one that was in line with the policy Bush advocated when he was president: “There really should be rules of the road agreed on by both parties ahead of time to fix the process. “ Kavanaugh said Bush, during his presidency, had suggested a policy in which nominations would get a vote in the Senate within 180 days. Kavanaugh supported that idea.

Kavanaugh made one exception to his no-comment position on the Garland nomination: He and Garland have served together on the appeals court for the District of Columbia for a decade. He described Garland as hard-working, dedicated, smart, a good friend and colleague, and someone who is respected by his peers.

Kavanaugh was joined by Ted Ullyot in the “On the Issues” session, which focused on what it was like to work in the White House. Both Kavanaugh and Ullyot worked closely with Bush in several positions, including service by Kavanaugh as staff secretary and Ullyot as deputy staff secretary. Ullyot is now a partner at Andreesen Horowitz, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital. (Ullyot delivered the annual Helen Wilson Nies Lecture on intellectual property at the Law School on Tuesday. A summary of that talk can be found here.)

The two said that, among other things, the staff secretary positions meant that almost all paperwork that went to the president or came from the president was routed through them and they had close involvement in daily activities of the president.

“This is the kind of work where everything has to be just perfect.” Kavanaugh said. “This is a job where you are inevitably not achieving perfection, but you’re trying to get as close as you can each day.” Ullyot said, “It’s a no upside job” because there are so many ways that things can go wrong due to details – and the staff secretaries are responsible for a wide array of details.

Ullyot and Kavanaugh described Bush as a great man who treated everyone in the White House with respect and who showed warmth to everyone. Ullyot said Bush carried himself in the White House as someone who worked for everyone in the country and who was no better than anyone else. At the same time, Bush was a demanding boss who paid careful attention to detail.

Video of the one-hour conversation may be viewed by clicking here.






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