Judge Brett Kavanaugh, nominated by President Donald Trump Monday night to the U.S. Supreme Court, has played a pivotal role in some of Florida’s most contentious moments, from Elian González to the Bush vs. Gore presidential election.
In 2000, Kavanaugh represented pro bono the Miami relatives of 6-year-old Elian, who wanted to keep the child in Miami despite his father’s wishes to have custody of him in Cuba. Kavanaugh lost that fight when Elian was removed from his uncle’s Little Havana house by federal agents with their guns drawn in the predawn hours of April 22, 2000, on Saturday before Easter Sunday.
On Thanksgiving Day 1999, two South Florida fisherman found Elian, who was then 5 years old, floating on an inner tube in the open sea. The small aluminum boat that initially carried 14 people from Cuba, including his mother, broke up and took on water. His mother perished at sea along with 10 others.
The custody battle polarized the Cuban community and all of South Florida, with some believing Elian should not be returned to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, while others thought his place was with his father, who had remained in Cuba.
Around eight months later, Kavanaugh got involved in another contentious case in Florida.
This time, it was the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. With the Florida votes still undecided in December because of a state-mandated recount due to the razor-thin margin of the election results, Kavanaugh joined Bush’s legal team, which was trying to stop the ballot recount in the state.
The case went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted 5-4 to stop the recount, essentially paving the way for Bush to become president. That decision by the Supreme Court is still controversial 18 years later.
A few months before that, Kavanaugh represented former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in his controversial quest to set up a school voucher program that would direct public money to private religious schools. The Florida Supreme Court ultimately struck down the program in 2006.
Jeb Bush’s brother, George, then president, nominated Kavanaugh in 2003 for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — a move that didn’t sit well with Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.
Durbin, during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, called him the “Forrest Gump of Republican politics … whether it’s Elian Gonzalez or the Starr Report, you are there.”
Kavanaugh, who clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court justice who is retiring, had also worked for independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
As part of Starr’s legal team, Kavanaugh investigated President Bill Clinton and was the lead author of the “Starr Report,” which chronicled Clinton’s extramarital affairs.