by Ruben J. Garcia, Associate Dean for Faculty Development & Research and Professor of Law, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law, ACS Board of Directors Member
As the analysis of the record and opinions of United States Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh begins, one of the judge’s dissenting opinions on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is a strong indicator of the judge’s philosophy toward the law’s protection for workers, and how, if he is confirmed, he will limit the future reach of administrative agencies. Judge Kavanaugh’s 2014 dissenting opinion in SeaWorld of Florida, LLC v. Perez reflects Judge Kavanaugh’s deep skepticism of the institutions that Congress designed to protect American workers.
The SeaWorld case concerned the death of Dawn Brancheau, an animal trainer at Sea World in Orlando. Brancheau was an orca trainer with more than 14 years experience and 16 years employment with SeaWorld itself. Brancheau was working with a killer whale named Tilikum on February 24, 2010. At one point in the routine before a full crowd of spectators at the theme park, Tilikum was supposed to mime Brancheau’s behavior. Instead, the killer whale pulled Brancheau off the platform, inflicted severe injuries, and drowned her. Brancheau’s death, and the ensuing OSHA investigation, was a central focus of the 2013 film Blackfish.