Kavanaugh assigned to review appeals from Seventh Circuit; Remains to be seen how will affect courts

By Carrie Bradon | Oct 25, 2018

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In the wake of the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the nation's highest court has assigned the new associate justice to review appeals to the Supreme Court from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Chicago.

However, the assignment of Kavanaugh to that task doesn't necessarily mean any big changes in the kinds of cases that could move from the local federal court circuit to land on the docket at the Supreme Court, according to at least one observer. 

Carrie Severino of the Washington, D.C.-based Judicial Crisis Network spoke with the Cook County Record, saying the assignment likely was a case of needing to reshuffle the deck, so to speak, with the arrival of a new justice, and have all of the various federal appellate circuit's covered by one of the nine justices.

"Often if there's a circuit that someone is from, they will take that circuit, such as Justice (Clarence) Thomas from Georgia, who has the 11th Circuit that includes Georgia," Severino said. She noted former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who hailed from California and was replaced by Kavanaugh, had covered the Ninth Circuit, which includes the Pacific states.  

"That's often how it often works," Severino said. 

However, she noted the chief justice typically handles cases flowing from the Fourth Circuit and the D.C. Circuit, blocking Kavanaugh from the regions to which he would have had the closest connections. Kavanaugh is from the Washington, D.C. area, and served on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals before his appointment to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump following Kennedy's retirement.

Previously, Justice Elena Kagan had been assigned to the Seventh Circuit before the assignment was shuffled to make room for Kavanaugh. Kagan will now handle appeals from the Ninth Circuit.

However, while Kagan is known to typically lean left on many controversial issues, and Kavanaugh is expected to lean right, the change may not mean as much as to the workings of the court or to how appeals from the Seventh Circuit may be handled, as some may believe, Severino said.  

"There's not actually that dramatic of a difference in terms of the traditional metrics we think of, such as the idealogical differences between Kagan and Kavanaugh, for example," Severino said. "It's more about stylistic differences in getting extensions; generally, for the high-profile cases, if the justice knows it's a consequential case, they're typically going to refer that to the whole court, which is a collegial place."

Severino explained that even though there are partisan differences, the Supreme Court generally works together well to sort out disagreements and come to decisions together.

The types of cases that are accepted at the Supreme Court likely will not change much with Kavanaugh in his new role, nor does Severino expect any cases that have already been decided upon to be changed simply because of the assignment. 

"That is something that is decided on by the justices across the board and still requires 5 justices," Severino said. "I'm sure there will be a marginal case where Justice Kennedy was the deciding vote, and Kavanaugh would have voted to take it and Kennedy wouldn't, but it's very hard to know who and which cases those could be."

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