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Donald Trump

What does Donald Trump’s pick for Supreme Court mean for abortion rights in US?

Brett Kavanaugh’s record will come under particular scrutiny for clues as to how he might vote in any future review of Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2018, 8:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2018, 10:11pm

US President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for a seat on the US Supreme Court could create the most conservative court in generations and threaten landmark rulings including the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision.

If confirmed by the US Senate, Kavanaugh would fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote who sometimes sided with the court’s liberals in key cases.

Trump wants to leave an enduring mark on the court, giving it a solid five-justice conservative majority for the foreseeable future.

“I do not ask about a nominee’s personal opinions,” Trump said Monday night.

“What matters is not a judge’s political views but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and the Constitution require.”

Kavanaugh 53, is a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit with a history in politics.

Before he was nominated to the DC circuit by George W. Bush, he was the former president’s staff secretary and worked for Bush during the 2000 Florida vote recount. He also played a lead role in drafting Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s 1998 report on Bill Clinton. He is a Yale Law School graduate.

Trump made his decision on Sunday, according to White House officials, adding the determining factor was that Kavanaugh was the kind of judge read by other judges, and had a solid grounding in the legal philosophy known as strict constructionism.

On Friday, the president asked all four finalists for the Supreme Court seat, Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett, and Thomas Hardiman – to write speeches for Monday night’s announcement, submit names of people they’d like to have attend the announcement, and to share background information, according to the White House officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The president called Kavanaugh on Sunday night to tell him that he had been chosen.

On the appeal court, Kavanaugh has voted to strike down environmental regulations and said he would have overturned internet regulations issued while Barack Obama was president.

He dissented from a ruling that let an undocumented immigrant teenager get an abortion while in federal custody.

Trump said that Kavanaugh has “impeccable credentials” and is “universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time.”

Kavanaugh, a former Kennedy clerk, said that he was “deeply honoured” to replace the retiring justice.

“No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination,” Kavanaugh said of Trump.

In addition to abortion, the court could shift to the right on the death penalty, racial discrimination, environmental law and gay rights, all areas where Kennedy at least sometimes joined the court’s liberal wing.

Chief Justice John Roberts may now become the swing vote.

White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short said he expects Kavanaugh to be in place by October 1, when the court’s next term formally opens, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will vote to confirm Kennedy’s successor in the fall.

McConnell, who called Kavanaugh a “superb choice,” hasn’t explicitly said whether his goal is to complete a confirmation before the November midterm elections.

“This incredibly qualified nominee deserves a swift confirmation and robust bipartisan support,” Trump said.

Kennedy’s position in the court’s centre guarantees a fierce confirmation fight. As soon as he announced his retirement plans in late June, Democrats and liberal groups mobilised, saying another Trump appointee would threaten Roe as well as the 2015 ruling that legalised same-sex marriage nationwide and scores of other decisions that have shaped modern America.

Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, so they can approve Trump’s nominee without any Democratic support as long as they don’t lose more than one vote.

In confirming Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Republicans eliminated the 60-vote requirement to advance a nomination to the High Court.

The White House plans a robust promotional campaign on Kavanaugh’s behalf.

Gorsuch’s nomination became possible because McConnell blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill a vacancy in 2016. McConnell had said the winner of the presidential election should make the choice.

Trump vowed during the campaign to appoint justices who would vote to overturn Roe, the 1973 ruling that legalised abortion nationwide, and his appointment to replace Kennedy could make that a reality.

Recently, he said he wouldn’t ask any potential nominees about Roe during interviews.

Kennedy cast the pivotal vote to uphold Roe in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. The justices who remain on the court include three who have backed broad abortion restrictions and a fourth, Gorsuch, who in all likelihood would.

Senate confirmation of Kavanaugh could create the most conservative court since the justices blocked a number of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programmes in the 1930s.

It could also create a lasting majority. Thomas, at 70, is the oldest of the court’s remaining Republican appointees.

Additional reporting by The Guardian