On Jan. 8, Justice Brett Kavanaugh's first Supreme Court opinion was released on a case that the bench gave a unanimous opinion upon. According to The Washington Post, the context around Kavanaugh's decision was representative of a common tradition for the Supreme Court, in which a recently appointed justice often gives his or her first solo opinion on an uncontroversial case. What's more, the publication further points out that Kavanaugh's opinion focused on the tamer aspects of the decision, as well, rather than diving into tricky legal territory.
The case, Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, was originally presented to the Supreme Court in October before being decided on Jan. 8. It addressed an appeals court decision in which a court had been granted the right to decide whether a problem between a dental manufacturer and distributor could be settled by arbitration or not. Along with his fellow judges, Kavanaugh agreed with the reversal of this decision.
He wrote in part, “When the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract. We vacate the contrary judgment of the Court of Appeals."
Kavanaugh continued, “We must interpret the Act as written, and the Act in turn requires that we interpret the contract as written...When the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability circumstances, a court possesses no power to decide the arbitrability issue.”
USA Today notes that Kavanaugh used the word "arbitrability" 13 times in his eight-page opinion. According to the MacMillan Dictionary, arbitrability is defined by "the ability of a dispute to be taken to arbitration." Arbitration, in general, is the use of an arbitrator, AKA a judge or a legislative middle man, to settle a dispute between two parties, per Law.com.
According to The New York Times, Kavanaugh summarized his opinion in court on Tuesday in front of seven of his colleagues; the only justice missing was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is recovering at home from her cancer surgery.
So far, Kavanaugh's time on the Supreme Court bench has been marked by a largely quiet presence. As was mentioned above, The Washington Post notes that this is representative of how most justices start their time on the bench, more so than any indication of his specific behavior as a judge.
Kavanaugh did make one surprising move in December when he sided with Chief Justice John Roberts and the liberal side of the Supreme Court bench on a relatively uncontroversial Planned Parenthood decision in December. Per USA Today, the court ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood patients being allowed to contest laws in Kansas and Louisiana which stripped their Medicaid funds.
It's worth noting that the case had nothing to do with the question of the legality of abortion. Kavanaugh's relationship to Roe v. Wade was a point of controversy during his Senate confirmation hearings, though he has maintained that he believes the ruling is established precedent.
Kavanaugh has yet to write an individual dissent as a Supreme Court justice.