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U.S. Justice Kavanaugh to make first major public speech since controversy

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By Reuters
U.S. Justice Kavanaugh to make first major public speech since controversy
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in McConnell's office at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo   -   Copyright  Leah Millis(Reuters)

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has kept a low profile since sexual misconduct accusations almost derailed his appointment 13 months ago, will make his first major public appearance since his Senate confirmation when he addresses a friendly audience of conservative lawyers on Thursday evening.

Kavanaugh, appointed by Republican President Donald Trump to a lifetime position on the highest U.S. judicial body, will address the annual meeting of the Federalist Society. One of the organisation’s leaders, Leonard Leo, has served as an adviser to Trump on judicial nominations.

The 54-year-old conservative jurist was confirmed in October 2018 on a 50-48 vote in a U.S. Senate controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, one of the tightest margins ever for a Supreme Court justice. The vote came after Kavanaugh angrily denied allegations made by a California university professor that he had sexually assaulted her in 1982 when the two were high school students in Maryland.

Some of his colleagues – including fellow Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch, who has been promoting a new book, and liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who makes speaking engagements – regularly make public appearances.

A rare public sighting occurred when Kavanaugh took part in a May charity run in Washington. The same month he participated in a low-profile panel discussion at a judicial event in Wisconsin.

His affable demeanour during oral arguments at the court – in which he adopts a deferential tone when asking questions – stands in contrast to his incensed testimony during his televised September 2018 confirmation hearings when he accused Democrats of orchestrating a hit-job against him.

In addition to professor Christine Blasey Ford, two other women accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct dating to the 1980s. He denied all the allegations.

The Supreme Court has a 5-4 conservative majority. In his first year as a justice, Kavanaugh’s record has shown him to be in lock step with the court’s other conservative members in major cases. There have been signs he will be more reliably conservative than the justice he replaced, Anthony Kennedy, who sometimes sided with the court’s liberal bloc on issues including abortion and gay rights.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)