WASHINGTON — Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh first crossed paths over plates of beef stroganoff, shepherd's pie and chicken cubes in a thick, yellow sauce. They weren't business meals. They shared lunch period at their elite private high school.
Now, the two may dine together for decades, this time at the Supreme Court. If Kavanaugh is confirmed following hearings in September, he will join his fellow Trump nominee at the high court, where tradition is that justices lunch together on days when they hear arguments.
Gorsuch and Kavanaugh's bonds go well beyond a common conservative ideology and their days at the all-boys Georgetown Preparatory School, just 11 miles (18 kilometers) from the Supreme Court's marble halls. They clerked together at the Supreme Court, became federal appeals court judges the same year, served together on a judicial committee and co-wrote, along with several others, a book about precedent.
When Gorsuch was sworn in last year, Kavanaugh attended a ceremony for him at the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh has said they're friends, noting they've known each other "seemingly forever."
The pair wouldn't be the first friends to serve together on the Supreme Court. Sometimes those friendships have flourished. Other times, after working together, friends have had fallings-out.
Clare Cushman, the editor of a book of biographies of justices, pointed to several Supreme Court friendships. John Marshall, the court's fourth chief justice, and Bushrod Washington, a nephew of George Washington, studied law under the same man. Sandra Day O'Connor, the court's first female justice, and William Rehnquist dated in law school. Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were, in Ginsburg's words, "best buddies" from their years together as appeals court judges in Washington. As colleagues, they attended operas together and had holiday meals together. One picture of them traveling shows them riding an elephant together and waving.
Not all friendships between justices have fared so well. William O. Douglas and Felix Frankfurter were friendly as law professors but became enemies on the court, Cushman said. Warren Burger and Harry Blackmun were childhood friends growing up in St. Paul, and Blackmun served as best man at Burger's wedding. Labeled the "Minnesota twins" early in their time on the court, they grew apart as their votes diverged.
Kavanaugh and Gorsuch seem to be starting out in a good place.
"He is a good friend. He is kind, funny, hardworking and brilliant," Kavanaugh said of Gorsuch in 2017, in a speech just days after Gorsuch's nomination. "With his smarts, his character, and his understanding of life and law, I firmly believe he will be one of the great justices in Supreme Court history, like a Jackson or a Scalia. Watching him the other night, I felt immensely and overwhelmingly proud of him," adding he was also proud of Georgetown Preparatory School, the Jesuit high school outside Washington where they met.
Kavanaugh was a junior when Gorsuch arrived at the school as a freshman. Although they shared a lunch period that year, they didn't run in the same circles. Gorsuch was a boarding student. Kavanaugh was not. Kavanaugh played football and basketball and wrote for the student newspaper. Gorsuch was in student government and the forensics and international relations clubs.
Still, classmates said the school was small enough that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh would have known each other. And because big games tended to bring out the entire school, Gorsuch would have cheered on varsity athlete Kavanaugh in basketball and particularly football, especially against major rivals Landon and Gonzaga, classmates said.
"I guarantee you it happened," said Don Urgo, a longtime friend of Kavanaugh's who, like the judge, played defensive back and wide receiver. Kavanaugh was No. 23, Urgo No. 24.
Kavanaugh and Gorsuch parted ways for college, Gorsuch attending Columbia and then Harvard Law School and Kavanaugh attending Yale for both undergraduate and law school. In 1993, though, they both again wound up at the same place: as clerks at the Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh was one of four clerks to Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom he would replace. Gorsuch was clerking for retired Justice Byron White. But because White was retired, Gorsuch was also assigned to Kennedy's chambers as a "step-clerk," helping in the work of the chambers.
Miles Ehrlich and Judge Gary Feinerman, who also clerked for Kennedy that year, said that now, more than two decades later, they can't remember exactly how often Gorsuch came in to talk about cases. Gorsuch's office was blocks away, not at the court like those of other Kennedy clerks. He wasn't a regular at frequent clerk basketball games on the "highest court in the land," a basketball court located above the Supreme Court chamber.
Still, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh attended happy hours with other clerks, and Kavanaugh has said they got to know each other "very well." After the clerkship, they would have seen each other at Kennedy clerk reunions, and both worked in President George W. Bush's administration.
An email released as part of Gorsuch's confirmation hearings shows they were in touch. In May 2006, when Bush nominated Gorsuch to an appeals court, Kavanaugh emailed him with an all-caps subject line: "CONGRATULATIONS!" Gorsuch wrote back the next day, returning the congratulations to Kavanaugh, who had just had his judicial confirmation hearing.
"We need to catch up someday soon," Gorsuch wrote in part, "perhaps a lunch later this month?"
EDITOR'S NOTE _ One in a series of stories examining the nomination of federal appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court