(61 Lake Place, the brownstone behind Payne Whitney Gymnasium, once housed Judge Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90)
In the days following the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 to the U.S. Supreme Court, Democrats have condemned President Donald Trump’s pick as an enemy of the left.
But ask Kavanaugh’s progressive friends from Yale Law School, and you will hear a different story.
In the 1989–90 school year, about eight male law students, Kavanaugh among them, shared a brownstone house, divided into several apartments, at 61 Lake Place behind Payne Whitney Gymnasium. All the housemates leaned Democrat — except for Kavanaugh.
Over the last two days, nearly 500 Yale Law alumni, students and faculty members — none of whom were in Kavanaugh’s graduating class — have signed a petition criticizing Yale for celebrating its alumnus’s nomination. But to those who knew him personally during his time at law school, the federal judge — who, if confirmed, would give the court’s conservative block a 5–4 majority, potentially leading to the rollback of abortion and voting rights — was not a fire-spitting conservative but a sports junkie with picky eating habits.
Kavanaugh’s apartment, where he lived with two classmates, had a larger living room than the building’s other units. The common area became a hangout spot for residents of the house, said Steve Hartmann LAW ’90, who lived with Kavanaugh in the apartment and now works as associate general counsel at Verizon. The housemates used to watch Jeopardy together, playing their own version of the game by yelling answers at the screen before the players did, recalled another roommate, Kenneth Christmas LAW ’91.
But Kavanaugh and Christmas far prefered ESPN’s SportsCenter to the game show.
“Brett and I were two of the ones that looked upon [watching Jeopardy] with disdain,” Christmas recalled.
Kavanaugh was an avid Yale sports fan, organizing weekly tailgates during his time as a law student and even on a few occasions after his graduation, Christmas said, adding that the judge almost never missed a home football game. His enthusiasm was infectious: When Kavanaugh and Christmas lived together, even Christmas, whose alma mater, Stanford University, had far superior teams, got hooked on Yale sports.
When Kavanaugh was not cooped up in the Lillian Goldman Law Library, he played pickup basketball with friends. During law school, he traveled to Hawaii for a golf trip and Cancun for spring break, said Christmas, who now works in entertainment law.
In those days, Kavanaugh rarely talked about politics; among his friends, he mostly stuck to sports. The Washington-native was a big Redskins fan. That passion for D.C. sports seems to have continued into his adulthood. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Kavanaugh built up credit card debt — which he ultimately paid off — by buying Washington Nationals tickets for himself and a handful of friends.
Jim Brochin ’84 LAW ’90, a housemate of Kavanaugh’s, said he can count on one hand the number of political conversations the two have had in the more than 25 years that they have known each other.
“The most controversial issue I’ve discussed with him is the designated hitter,” said Brochin, a former partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
But Christmas, who is African-American, recalled conversations with Kavanaugh about protections for minorities. The two often discussed minority rights, he said, and the role of the state and federal governments in determining those rights.
“He was sort of the guy that would argue both sides,” Christmas said. “I don’t think he sees himself as an ideologue in any way. I think he sees himself as someone who has intellectual rigor in how he looks at the law.”
Still, liberals fear that Kavanaugh would shift the court far to the right, as he replaces retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a longtime swing vote. The open letter signed by Law School students and alumni cites opinions in which he has denied labor rights to undocumented workers and supported the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone calls, as well as a recent dissent in which he objected to allowing a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant in detention to have an abortion. “People will die if he is confirmed,” the letter states.
At Yale, the judge was highly regarded among his classmates, his friends say. He spent nights working on the Yale Law Journal, where he served as notes editor. He made those late shifts “palatable” with a constant stream of jokes, said Brochin, who also worked on the journal.
But when it came to food, the future Supreme Court pick found hardly anything palatable, Christmas said. Kavanaugh was a “bland eater,” his roommate explained, who never ate his pasta with anything more exotic than tomato sauce or ketchup on top. At visits to Yorkside Pizza following late nights at Toad’s Place — the friends did not go often, Christmas said, as Kavanaugh had “limited dance moves” — the judge’s pizza had to be plain cheese, or sometimes just pepperoni.
“When he had spaghetti sauce, it was ragu — he didn’t want anything spicier than that,” Hartmann added.
This November, Kavanaugh and his seven closest law school buddies — six of whom lived in the Lake Place house in the 1989–90 academic year — are due to meet in Boston for their annual reunion, said Hartmann. Since law school, Kavanaugh has missed only two or three of the reunions, according to Christmas, who noted that he even came while he clerked on the Supreme Court.
Asked whether he thought Kavanaugh would attend the reunion this year, potentially as a Supreme Court justice, Hartmann said he expects his classmate to make an appearance.
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Correction, July 13: A previous version of this story said that Kavanaugh and his housemates lived at 51 Lake Place, based on an interview with one of the housemates. In fact, the housemates lived at 61 Lake Place.