South Carolina to test Rudy's line on judges

A speech Rudy Giuliani delivered to an abortion-rights advocacy group when he was mayor of New York City and more recent comments about the Supreme Court could complicate his efforts to woo conservative votes in crucial presidential primary states.

A speech Rudy Giuliani delivered to an abortion-rights advocacy group when he was mayor of New York City and more recent comments about the Supreme Court could complicate his efforts to woo conservative votes in crucial presidential primary states.

Giuliani will test his new abortion talking points with conservative voters today when he campaigns in South Carolina, a state that is expected to pose an obstacle to centrist GOP presidential candidates next year. 

Giuliani, who was an outspoken supporter of abortion rights when he ran for city office in the 1990s, has shifted his position to appeal to conservative voters by promising to nominate conservative jurists to the federal courts if elected president. He has vowed to select judges like Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito Jr., conservative stalwarts on the Supreme Court who are viewed as abortion-rights opponents.

The credibility of that stance is undermined by remarks Giuliani delivered in April of 2001 to the National Abortion & Reproduction Rights Action League, now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America.

NARAL was perhaps the harshest critic of President Bush’s appointments of Roberts and Alito to the high court. NARAL aired the first television advertisement opposing Roberts’s nomination, accusing him of supporting violent anti-abortion groups while showing footage of a 1998 abortion clinic bombing.

The ad was met with such a barrage of protest that NARAL took it off the air. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), then the centrist chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, condemned the ad, saying it was untrue and undercut the credibility of abortion-rights advocates.

Giuliani’s remarks to NARAL could prove embarrassing because the Roberts episode is still fresh in the minds of many conservative activists the former mayor hopes to win over to his side.

“I thank NARAL for taking the lead in establishing freedom of choice for all of us, and as the mayor of New York City, I thank you for being here in New York City,” he said in 2001.

Giuliani also indicated then that he supported changing the Republican Party’s platform on abortion.

“In a recent poll by American Viewpoint, 65 percent of Republicans supported changing the plank in the Republican platform that calls for a constitutional ban on abortion,” he said. “And over 80 percent of Republicans believe that the decision with regard to an abortion should be made by a woman, her doctor, and her family, rather than dictated by the government.”

Abortion rights, Giuliani said, fit well within the Republican Party’s philosophy of reducing the role of government in people’s lives.

“So it is consistent with that philosophy to believe that in the most personal and difficult choices that a woman has to make with regard to a pregnancy, those choices should be made based on that person’s conscience and that person’s way of thinking and feeling,” he said. “The government shouldn’t dictate that choice by making it a crime or making it illegal.”

At the NARAL lunch, Giuliani also said he and the assembled guests were “upholding a distinguished tradition that began in our city starting with the work of Margaret Sanger,” a founder of Planned Parenthood and a pioneer of distributing birth control to the poor.

An official with Giuliani’s campaign stressed that he has since clearly stated his personal opposition to abortion.

“I oppose it,” Giuliani said during a Fox News interview this month. “I don’t like it. I hate it. I think abortion is something that is a personal matter I would advise something against. However, I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I think you have to ultimately not put a woman in jail for that. I think ultimately you have to leave that to a disagreement of conscience and have to respect the choice that somebody makes…”

Now that Giuliani is pinning his abortion stance to a promise on federal court nominations, he could be haunted by other public comments.

In July of 2005, he said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fit criteria that would be important to him when picking a Supreme Court justice.

“[W]hat’s important to me is to have a very intelligent, very honest, very good lawyer on the court,” he said. “Justice Ginsburg fit that category.” Giuliani added that she was a “very qualified lawyer and a very smart person.”

Ironically, Giuliani made his 2005 statements on Fox News’s “Hannity & Colmes,” the same show on which he made an appeal this month to conservative voters.

“I think the appointment of judges I would make would be very similar if not exactly the same as the last two judges that were appointed,” he said. “Chief Justice Roberts is somebody I admire. Justice Alito, someone I knew when he was U.S. attorney, I also admire.”

Influential conservatives say Giuliani cannot merely promise to nominate conservatives to the bench. They say he must address his personal stance on the issue.

“I think it’s probably going to have to be stronger,” the director of public policy for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, Joe Mack, said. “He’ll have to deal with where he stands on the issue, not just on his court appointees. I think people are still going to want to know where he stands on the issue.”

Mack said that if Giuliani has changed his mind on abortion, he will have to make his case convincing.

“What kind of case he makes will determine whether they accept it or not,” he said, speaking of social conservatives from his state.

A conservative activist leader based in Washington, Connie Mackey, said Giuliani’s comments need to be scrutinized.

“It’s relevant,” said Mackey, who works for the legislative-action arm of the Family Research Council, a group representing evangelical Christians. “Any conservative who thinks it’s sufficient to get a promise that [Giuliani] will put strict constructionists on the courts are missing the point. You use the bully pulpit to advance an agenda you believe in and you put people in federal agencies who will do the work of your stated agenda. His stated agenda is that he’s pro-abortion.”

Giuliani made other statements in 2005 that will make it difficult for him to appease conservatives’ concerns by promising to nominate judges in the mold of Roberts and Alito.

During a June 2005 interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Giuliani said he would not select a judicial nomination based on his or her abortion views.

“I wouldn’t pick a judge based on whether I knew or didn’t know their position on choice,” he said. “I’d pick a judge based on their overall record.”

Perhaps more awkward for Giuliani now is a declaration he made in 2000 during an ABC interview with George Will that Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision establishing the right to an abortion, was good constitutional law. Even many defenders of abortion rights acknowledge that the legal justification behind the case was poorly reasoned.

These statements could turn up in campaign ads aired by his political opponents in the run-up to next year’s primaries.