At confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this week, senators, particularly Democrats, have been questioning Kavanaugh’s background and philosophies on issues such as presidential power and abortion.
Senators are not the only ones with questions about Kavanaugh and where he stands; Northeast Georgians are also watching.
Kavanaugh, nominated to replace retired judge Anthony Kennedy, has said publicly and in private conversations with senators that he believes Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on the federal level, is settled law.
On Thursday, Democrats focused on the issue again, after the disclosure of an email Kavanaugh wrote in 2003 that suggested the case may not be settled after all.
In the email Kavanaugh sent to a Republican Senate aide, he was commenting on a potential op-ed in support of two judicial nominees.
“I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so,” Kavanaugh wrote.
Wanda Freeman, Hall County chapter leader with Georgia Right to Life, said she doesn’t trust where Kavanaugh stands on abortion. Kavanaugh said Thursday he believed Roe v. Wade was “an important precedent.”
Amy Coney Barrett, one of the finalists mentioned as a candidate for the court, would more reliably defend anti-abortion efforts, Freeman said.
“Her heart appears that she would stand for every innocent life,” Freeman said.
But Freeman said anytime the issue of abortion takes the spotlight, especially in the political arena, it creates the opportunity for people to have difficult discussions about it and learn more.
“Anytime there’s conversations going on, that’s a good thing. ... With the opportunity to elect these new judges, that’s always a big issue,” she said.
Carl Cavalli, a professor of political science at the University of North Georgia, said having Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court may send the message to anti-abortion advocates that they have an ally on the court. Some states have laws that severely restrict access to abortions, and some that nearly outlaw them, but Roe v. Wade makes those laws less relevant, he said.
“There are a number of states that have statutes on the books already outlawing abortion, but basically those statutes are unenforceable until Roe v. Wade falls,” Cavalli said. “This could signal to states to file suit, to press their laws and then take legal action to defend their laws. ... It could send a signal to pro-life groups to challenge laws that are on the books.”
How Kavanaugh’s appointment could affect Roe v. Wade is not the only question raised in his confirmation hearings. More than 100,000 pages of Kavanaugh’s records from his time working for the George W. Bush White House were withheld. About 42,000 pages were released before the evening of the hearing.
Kim Copeland, the chairman of the Hall County Democratic Party, said it is hard for senators to make an informed decision without seeing those documents, and that withholding those records was deceiving.
“If I were a senator on either side, I would demand to see those. This is somebody that is going to be on the Supreme Court for decades. ... Why not release them?” Copeland said. “Why not wait a little longer and the entire Senate can see the documents?”
Cavalli said Kavanaugh’s appointment would ensure a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
“Anthony Kennedy, who he’s replacing, essentially was center-right. ... (Kavanaugh) is going to be a reliably conservative justice,” he said.
Several Georgia officials, including Gov. Nathan Deal, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr, 27 state senators and five state representatives have expressed support for Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“Judge Kavanaugh exhibits all of the personal qualities that we must demand from our Supreme Court justices,” Kemp, the Republican nominee for governor, said in a letter to the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. “He prioritizes his faith and family, raising two school-aged children with his wife, Ashley, and stands as a pillar in his community. ... Throughout his career, Judge Kavanaugh has built consensus, decided cases based on fact and law with no regard for his personal preferences, and shown enduring respect for the text, structure, and authority of our Constitution.”
Cavalli said the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination is a relatively recent phenomenon, a result of increased political polarization.
“We always used to teach that these Supreme Court appointments, if a nominee was controversial, they would not be nominated, or if something about their background came to light that was controversial, they would withdraw their nominations,” Cavalli said. “Nomination votes were always very close to 100 to nothing.”
Liberals are getting more liberal, and conservatives are leaning further right, he said. Both parties see the open Supreme Court position as an opportunity.
“As both parties see a chance to win majorities in the House and the Senate as they trade the presidency back and forth every four to eight years, both parties see a shot, and both parties are unwilling to budge,” Cavalli said. “The parties are moving farther and farther apart, yet they are more closely matched in terms of who can win nationwide, so neither party wants to give an inch.”