Kavanaugh Nomination Sparks Partisan Uproar On Abortion Rights

Jul 10, 2018
Originally published on July 10, 2018 11:45 pm

President Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy was met with swift partisan response from many in Congress, emphasizing the power of a narrow group of uncommitted senators.

A large number of Senate Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., immediately announced that they plan to vote against Kavanaugh.

"I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh's nomination with everything I have, and I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same," Schumer said in a statement. "The stakes are simply too high for anything less."

Republicans called the choice a triumph and rallied behind Kavanaugh. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called him a "superb choice" who is well-qualified for the job.

"Judge Kavanaugh has sterling academic credentials. He is widely admired for his intellect, experience and exemplary judicial temperament," he said. "This is an opportunity for senators to put partisanship aside and consider his legal qualifications with the fairness, respect and seriousness that a Supreme Court nomination ought to command."

But Schumer and other Democrats based their opposition in large part on fears that Kavanaugh would band together with the court's four conservative justices to restrict abortion rights and further undermine the Affordable Care Act. Those issues will be central to a heated fight among Democrats to persuade moderate Republicans and moderates in their own party to oppose Kavanaugh.

The pressure will be most intense on Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., all of whom are running for re-election in states Trump won in 2016.

Trump polls highly among voters in those states, and the closely watched Democratic trio will be under tremendous pressure to back the president. All three have reputations for working with Republicans on some policy issues and appearing at events at the White House when their politics align with Trump. But a controversial Supreme Court pick could test the boundaries of their willingness to buck the rest of the Democratic Party.

All three released statements that focused on their willingness to fully vet the nominee.

"Part of my job as Senator includes thoroughly considering judicial nominations, including to the Supreme Court," Donnelly said in his statement. "I will take the same approach as I have previously for a Supreme Court vacancy."

Heitkamp issued a lengthy statement that, in part, highlighted her vote for Trump's previous Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

"An exhaustive and fair process took place for Justice Gorsuch, who I supported," Heitkamp said. "It should and must take place again now."

Outside groups on both sides of the debate over abortion rights immediately issued predictions about what the nomination would mean for the future of Roe v. Wade.

Dana Singiser, the vice president for public policy and government relations at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told reporters Monday night, "The right to access abortion safely and legally in this country is clearly on the line."

Anti-abortion-rights activists do not disagree. Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the conservative Susan B. Anthony List, told reporters on a press call that the nomination of a fifth conservative justice is the culmination of years of work getting Republicans elected to all branches of government.

"We have known this moment was coming, and so over a year we have been organizing in these Senate battleground states," she said, "knowing that these senators would be key to a confirmation battle."

That confirmation process is set to begin immediately on Tuesday, when Kavanaugh is expected to come to Capitol Hill to begin meetings with senators.

He will be accompanied by former Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, who will be helping the nominee through the arduous confirmation process. Kyl is well-liked in the Senate and was personally recommended by McConnell as a good choice for the job.

He is a former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he participated in the confirmation of four justices.

Kyl's job, known as the "Sherpa," is to usher the nominee to one-on-one meetings with senators and to help him prepare for the types of questions he may face. Kyl may also be asked to sit in on the meetings or help guide the conversations behind closed doors.

Those meetings are an opportunity for senators to ask questions of the potential justice in a private setting before public hearings begin. Once that is done and Kavanaugh has completed a questionnaire from the Judiciary Committee, formal hearings can begin.

Committee members will question Kavanaugh over the course of several days of hearings. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday that he hopes to use that time to learn more about Kavanaugh's legal mind.

"I'm not looking for an ideologue," Kennedy said. "I'm looking for someone who has a sound, well thought out judicial philosophy."

Republican aides said Monday that they expect the whole process could take about two months. The last two Supreme Court nominees — Justices Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch — were approved after about 66 days.

NPR's Sarah McCammon contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Senate Republicans are not wasting any time starting the confirmation process for President Trump's pick to fill a second vacancy on the Supreme Court. Judge Brett Kavanaugh went to Capitol Hill this morning for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, where the top Republican predicted his confirmation will unfold over the next few weeks. But NPR's Kelsey Snell says a fierce fight is already underway.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Mitch McConnell beamed for the cameras as he shook hands with Brett Kavanaugh and Vice President Mike Pence. It was the first in a series of closed door meetings Kavanaugh will have with senators as GOP leaders work to make sure that Trump's nominee can be approved. Pence told reporters he's confident that they'll succeed.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Judge Brett Kavanaugh is quite simply the most qualified and the most deserving nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States.

SNELL: But as the meeting was getting underway, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was standing across the street with Democrats in front of the Supreme Court laying out plans to prevent that.


CHUCK SCHUMER: The ramifications of this battle will last a generation and more. I'm going to fight this nomination with everything I've got.

SNELL: Schumer delivered the same warning he's been repeating since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement last month. Any nominee on Trump's list is viewed as a threat to some of Democrats' most sacred policies.


SCHUMER: For every American who cares about women's health, about protections for people with pre-existing conditions, about civil rights, labor rights, LGBTQ rights, environmental rights, now is the time to fight - now.

SNELL: Democrats have only a narrow shot at preventing Kavanaugh's confirmation. Republicans control 51 seats in the Senate. That's enough to approve a nominee all on their own. But Senator John McCain has been absent for the past several months as he undergoes brain cancer treatment in Arizona. That means Republican leaders would need all 50 remaining Republicans to vote for Kavanaugh so that Pence could come in and break the tie. So Democrats are turning their attention to Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. They're both moderates who support abortion rights. But Collins says she's not going to be pressured into a decision.


SUSAN COLLINS: I do not apply an ideological test to their personal views.

SNELL: Collins has refused to take a stance on Kavanaugh until she gets a chance to meet him and vet his personal judicial philosophy. But she says she has no objections to his qualifications as a judge.


COLLINS: It'll be very difficult for anyone to argue that he's not qualified.

SNELL: Even if Collins is convinced that abortion is the most critical issue in the confirmation process, Democrats will still have an uphill battle. They need to make sure that moderates in their own party who are running for re-election in states that Trump won in 2016 don't vote for Republicans on the Supreme Court opening. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters Tuesday that strong feelings on both sides won't prevent the Senate from fully and fairly vetting Kavanaugh.


DIANNE FEINSTEIN: People have strong feelings. They're entitled to them. And so I'm not going to say one way or another. But we are going to have hopeful and fair hearings. And we are going to do the background work that's required for them.

SNELL: The partisan battle may have already started, but Republican leaders say they're confident Kavanaugh will get a vote this fall. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.