Trump's Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh once argued that SeaWorld trainers should expect to be dismembered


  • Photo via SeaWorld
All roads lead back to the Sunshine State – and, well, SeaWorld.

On Monday night, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump to the U.S. Supreme Court. And even though Kavanaugh was most recently on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, his ties to Florida have had consequential effects on the state's history, from his defense of Elian González to the role he played in the Bush vs. Gore presidential election.

In 2000, Kavanaugh first rose to "Florida Man" prominence when he represented pro bono the Miami relatives of 6-year-old González. The boy gained worldwide notoriety when he was found floating on an inner tube in the open sea on Thanksgiving Day 1999 after a boat carrying González, his mother and 12 others capsized while making the voyage from Cuba to the South Florida coast. González's mother and 10 others aboard the vessel did not survive the incident.

González's Florida family insisted that they keep the child in Miami, even though his father wanted custody of him in Cuba. Kavanaugh lost the court battle when González was removed from his uncle's Little Havana home by federal agents with guns drawn during an early morning raid on April 22, 2000.

Less than a year later, Kavanaugh found himself involved in the 21st century's first major political debacle (not counting the continuing reverberations from Clinton-Lewinsky affair). With the 2000 presidential election on the line, and with Floridians' votes in the process of a state-mandated recount because of the election's thin margin, Kavanaugh was invited to join then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush's legal team in its attempt to halt the ballot recount.

The case was argued all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted 5-4 to stop the recount, resulting in one of the Supreme Court's most controversial decisions in history.

Not too long after that, Kavanaugh represented former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in his attempt to install a school voucher program that would direct public money to private religious schools. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court struck that program down.

In 2003, President Bush nominated Kavanaugh for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. It was a move that seemed all too convenient to Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who called Kavanaugh the "Forrest Gump of Republican politics" – a reference to Kavanaugh's knack for always being involved in the nation's most pivotal moments, from defending González to being part of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's legal team in the investigation of Clinton. Kavanaugh was also the lead author of the "Starr Report," the play-by-play of Clinton's extramarital affairs while in office.

And as if that weren't enough, Kavanaugh played a key role in SeaWorld's legal battle with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration following the death of a killer whale trainer in 2010, as one of three judges who considered the company's appeal of citations issued by OSHA. The court ruled in a 2-1 opinion to uphold the OSHA fine, with Kavanaugh as the lone dissenting opinion, arguing that killer whale trainers were no different than professional athletes, racecar drivers others who willingly participate in dangerous workplaces.

"[The Department of Labor] cannot reasonably distinguish close contact with whales at SeaWorld from tackling in the NFL or speeding in NASCAR," Kavanaugh wrote. "The Department's sole justification for the distinction is that SeaWorld could modify … its shows to eliminate close contact with the whales without going out of business. But so, too, the NFL could ban tackling or punt returns or blocks below the waist. And likewise, NASCAR could impose a speed limit during its races. But the Department has not claimed that it can regulate those activities. So that is not a reasonable way to distinguish sports from SeaWorld."

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