WASHINGTON — Brett Michael Kavanaugh was just 38 when he was first nominated to a federal appeals court in Washington. But he had already participated in an extraordinary number of political controversies, attracting powerful patrons and critics along the way.
He served under Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton, examining the suicide of Vincent W. Foster Jr., the deputy White House counsel, and drafting parts of the report that led to Mr. Clinton’s impeachment. He worked on the 2000 Florida recount litigations that ended in a Supreme Court decision handing the presidency to George W. Bush. And he served as a White House lawyer and staff secretary to Mr. Bush, working on the selection of federal judges and legal issues arising from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
He was “the Zelig of young Republican lawyers,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said at Judge Kavanaugh’s first confirmation hearing, in 2004. “If there has been a partisan political fight that needed a good lawyer in the last decade, Brett Kavanaugh was probably there.”
But Judge Kavanaugh, 53, has also formed lifelong friendships with liberals, many of whom praise his intellect and civility. In his professional life, before he became a judge, he was often a moderating force.
Working for Mr. Starr, Judge Kavanaugh concluded that Mr. Foster had in fact killed himself. He opposed the public release of the narrative portions of Mr. Starr’s report detailing Mr. Clinton’s encounters with a White House intern. As staff secretary to Mr. Bush, he said in 2006, he strived to be “an honest broker for the president.”
As a judge, though, he has been a conservative powerhouse, issuing around 300 opinions. His dissents have often led to Supreme Court appeals, and the justices have repeatedly embraced the positions set out in Judge Kavanaugh’s opinions.
He has written countless decisions applauded by conservatives on topics including the Second Amendment, religious freedom and campaign finance. But they have particularly welcomed his vigorous opinions hostile to administrative agencies, a central concern of the modern conservative legal movement.
In a dissent in January from a decision upholding the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he issued a ringing endorsement of executive power.
“To prevent tyranny and protect individual liberty, the framers of the Constitution separated the legislative, executive and judicial powers of the new national government,” Judge Kavanaugh wrote. “To further safeguard liberty, the framers insisted upon accountability for the exercise of executive power. The framers lodged full responsibility for the executive power in a president of the United States, who is elected by and accountable to the people.”
John G. Malcolm, a lawyer with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group, said the decision was emblematic of a judicial career.
“He is a thoughtful, strategic judge who has, over time, moved the direction of the law in a conservative direction, and he has done it with scalpel-like precision,” Mr. Malcolm said. “This is a conservative judge who has written textualist, originalist opinions in a whole host of areas.”
Born in Washington, the son of two lawyers and the graduate of one of its elite private high schools, Georgetown Preparatory School, Judge Kavanaugh is in many ways a creature of the city Republicans like to deplore.
After seven years at Yale, where he went to college and law school, he returned here for a varied career that included stints in the Justice Department, the independent counsel’s office, a private law firm and the White House before joining the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Along the way, he married the former Ashley Estes, who served as personal secretary to Mr. Bush. They have two daughters.
But people who have worked with Judge Kavanaugh say he has little use for Washington pomp. “Whatever the opposite of a Georgetown cocktail party person is, that’s what Judge Kavanaugh is,” said Justin Walker, a law professor at the University of Louisville who worked as a law clerk for both Judge Kavanaugh and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. “He’d much rather have a beer and watch a hockey game.”
“I never see him prouder,” Professor Walker added, “than when I see him talk about coaching girls’ basketball.”
His father, E. Edward Kavanaugh, was for more than two decades the president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, a trade group, but Judge Kavanaugh has said that it was his mother, Martha Kavanaugh, who “has had a profound influence on my career choices.”