Most of the photos of Brett Kavanaugh on Getty Images are of Brett Kavanaugh doing recognizably Brett Kavanaugh things. There he is, for example, maintaining flinty eye contact with Donald Trump as they engage in a ritual handshake grip-off, or bowing slightly as Trump grips his shoulder, like a fifth-grade hall monitor waiting to accept a perfect attendance award from the school’s most lecherous vice principal. There he is testifying before the Senate regarding the various sexual assault allegations against him, his facial contortions resembling how I imagine a walrus attempts to imitate a hamster. And there he is posing for his official Supreme Court yearbook photos, looking like a Madame Tussauds wax statue of Eric Stonestreet that was accidentally left out in direct sunlight.
Yet in this nightmarish collage of drab wool, dead-eyed stares, and long scowls, a handful of photos always stand out. They feature Brett Kavanaugh, an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, with a numbered racing bib affixed to a roomy graphic tee, either sprinting towards an unseen finish line or indulging in an uncomfortably tongue-forward celebration right after crossing it.
As it turns out, these images are dispatches from the Capital Challenge, an annual D.C. road race sponsored by the American Council of Life Insurers, a gigantic life insurance lobbying outfit. (Entry fees go to a charity that provides children and teens with “skills in financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship.”) The race is one of the city’s proverbial events in which politicians take a break from partisan trench warfare to bond over a mutual appreciation of electrolyte-rich snacks. Democrats and Republicans share hugs in premium activewear, dutifully accompanied by junior staffers who are not paid nearly enough to have to see Joe Manchin in shorts, before noon or ever. Journalists run, too, setting aside pointed questions for a morning of witty banter with the people whose stewardship of power they ostensibly cover with exacting scrutiny.
Each year, every participant—government, media, and otherwise—works diligently to come up with best and/or worst pun team names. Among this year’s entrants were Run Free or Die, captained by New Hampshire Representative Chris Pappas; The Fast and the Curious, a team of Bloomberg journalists; and a group of AARP staffers who competed as the Memory Laps.
Kavanaugh is not the only Supreme Court justice to have participated; Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has done so three times, most recently as a member of The Jackson 5K. (She finished in 38:40, though she appears to be a member of the event’s sizable walking contingent.) In 1990, Justice Anthony Kennedy, then in his second year on the Court, posted a time of 26:40 as a member of All Deliberate Speed. Personally, I would argue that borrowing your silly fun run team name from an infamous Supreme Court decision used to slow-walked school desegregation in the South demonstrates remarkably poor judgment, but so did most of Anthony Kennedy’s decisions while on the Supreme Court, so at least he was consistent.
Speaking of troubling team names, the earliest Supreme Court contestant was Chief Justice John Roberts, who ran as a Justice Department lawyer in the 1980s as a member of—I am so sorry to share this information—Reagan’s V-Toes. He posted respectable times of 20:54 and 21:52, but cardio was apparently not a point of emphasis in the years that followed. By the time Roberts ran again in 1990 and 1991, this time as a member of the Five-Starr Generals—he’d climbed the ranks to a deputy role in then-Solicitor General Ken Starr’s office—he finished at 24:48 and 24:32, respectively. Here is Roberts, on the right in more ways than one, posing with his distressingly short-shorted teammates Pat Buchanan (center) and, next to Roberts, Hugh Hewitt.
Kavanaugh, however, is the Court’s most prolific entrant by a wide margin, running the event a dozen times, good enough to make its official hall of fame. He began participating in 2010, when he was a federal appeals court judge in D.C.; since then, he’s missed only 2020, when the race was canceled, and 2022, which took place a few days after the draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization leaked to the press. Under the circumstances, I assume Kavanaugh concluded that lacing up the trainers to participate in some ritual good-natured small talk would have been too complicated a task.
Kavanaugh’s passion for road races extends beyond opportunities to sweat in the general vicinity of pink-faced lobbyists and/or Kyrsten Sinema. He’s finished the Boston Marathon twice, in 2010 and 2015, clocking in at a respectable four hours both times. In 2019, the Delaware Cape Gazette spotted him grinding his way through the Dewey Beach Patrol 5K in a damp Texas Longhorns shirt. He logged a time of 24:27, good for third in his age group.
Kavanaugh has long been the weekend warrior type: At Yale, he was an avid intramural player who also spent two years as a scrappy point guard on the JV basketball team. But as an adult, his enthusiasm for these events also aligns with his efforts to curate a public image as the conservative supermajority’s token Wholesome Guy You Can Trust. (His Senate confirmation hearings, you may recall, featured a bottomless supply of treacly anecdotes about his love of coaching a girls’ basketball team, which even made an appearance in support of the man they called—sorry, again—“Coach K.”) In his mind, critics who fault him for voting to take bodily autonomy away from roughly half the country at the very least will have to respect that he helps raise money for charity when doing so is convenient.
Unfortunately for our fastest, ruddiest justice, a decade-plus of rubber-stamping the Republican Party’s policy agenda from the safety of his seat on the federal bench have taken a toll on his split times. Back in 2010, Kavanaugh finished the Capital Challenge in an even 21 minutes; this year, 24:01. When asked by Roll Call to recap his performance, he described the final mile as “not ideal,” which is, coincidentally, also how I feel about encountering a high-resolution picture of Brett Kavanaugh doing the Reactionary Michael Jordan thing with his tongue every time I open his Getty Images search results.
Regrettably, there is little you can do to undo the damage that Kavanaugh has done to, among other things, voting rights, racial justice, reproductive freedom, public safety, basic facts, and the general concept of persuasive writing. But if you are the sort of person who enjoys D.C.-area fun runs, and someday find yourself waiting in a post-race snack line next to a life-tenured Supreme Court justice agonizing over the choice between a banana or a granola bar, be patient. These days, the man has a lot on his plate.