The Mystery of Brett Kavanaugh's Baseball-Ticket Debt

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The eye-popping figures—tens of thousands on baseball tickets!—not only show how pricey America’s pastime has become. They also spotlight Kavanaugh’s own financial situation and the bruising contours of a high-stakes confirmation fight, and they raise the question of how he paid the debt off so quickly.

The more important, and curious, question is not how Kavanaugh accrued the debts attributed to the baseball tickets, but how he paid them down. It’s strange to imagine that a man of comparatively modest means would put tens of thousands of dollars on credit cards to buy baseball tickets, but even stranger that they would have been paid off so fast. The White House says that Kavanaugh’s friends reimbursed him for the tickets, and that he no longer buys them. The fact remains that Kavanaugh suddenly cleared at least $60,000 and as much as $200,000 in mysterious debt over one year—sums large enough that senators might well want to know who the sources of the payments were.

It would be challenging, though not impossible, to accrue so much in ticket debt in such a short time. Full-season tickets—meaning all 81 Nationals home games—can run into the thousands of dollars for a single seat. (How Kavanaugh, whose current job as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is highly demanding, would manage to find time to attend many baseball games—to say nothing of a full, 81-game home schedule—is another mystery.) At the most expensive price level, that could translate to around $35,000 per annum for a single seat, though most tickets are much less expensive. A renewing season-ticket holder at the most expensive price point would pay roughly $9,000 per year.

These numbers could put a dent in Kavanaugh’s salary. His disclosures show that if confirmed, he would have the smallest net worth of any justice. Getting the gig would probably inflate his assets. As a judge on the D.C. Circuit, he makes $220,600 a year, which would bump up to $255,300 on the Supreme Court. He might benefit in other ways, too: Justice Sonia Sotomayor scored a book advance of more than $1 million after joining the Court.

These salaries are high by national standards (nearly seven times the median national personal income), but not by the standards of the rarefied circles in which Kavanaugh travels, as his poverty relative to the sitting justices suggests. Many high-powered lawyers pass through the revolving door between the private and public sectors—working for a time in government to earn prestige and make political connections, then spending time at white-shoe law firms to make huge salaries. Kavanaugh went from law school to clerking for federal judges (including Justice Anthony Kennedy, who he is nominated to replace), and then joined Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s investigation of the Clinton administration. From there he briefly went to work at the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, but didn’t spend much time before joining the George W. Bush White House. After filling several jobs there, he went directly to the appeals court.

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