Supreme Court battle revives abortion debate

Supreme Court battle revives abortion debate
© Greg Nash

Senators on Sunday sought to lay out the stakes in the looming fight over President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE’s next Supreme Court pick, with some framing it as a battle over the future of Roe v. Wade.

Democrats raised alarms on Sunday talk shows that Trump will seek to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy with a judge who would vote to overturn the landmark case that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion. The effort to position the confirmation process as a matter of women's rights comes as Democrats are largely powerless to stop Trump's nominee.

“The president is looking for someone who will overturn Roe v. Wade,” Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGrassley to administration: You must consult Congress on refugee cap Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (D-Ill.), the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, declared on “Fox News Sunday.”

"The basic issue at hand here is whether or not a woman has the power to make decisions, the freedom to make decisions regarding her own body and her own life," he added.

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Democrats are likely to appeal to Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Feinstein's office says it has received threats over Kavanaugh Ford taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiAlaska gov, lieutenant gov come out against Kavanaugh The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Budowsky: Kavanaugh and the rights of women MORE (R-Alaska), two pro-choice Republicans. Collins said Sunday that it would "not be acceptable" for a Supreme Court nominee to vow to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“A candidate for this important position who would overturn Roe v. Wade would not be acceptable to me because that would indicate an activist agenda that I don’t want to see a judge have, and that would indicate to me a failure to respect precedent,” Collins said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Kennedy announced earlier this week that he will retire on July 31. The conservative judge sided with Democrat-appointed justices as a swing vote in a number of key cases, including ones that legalized gay marriage and reaffirmed Roe v. Wade.

His retirement provides an opportunity for Trump to shape the Supreme Court for decades to come. The president said he will announce his pick on July 9, and that it will come from a pre-existing list of 25 candidates. 

Trump said during the 2016 campaign he’d look to appoint pro-life judges who he expected would overturn Roe v. Wade. He backed off that hard-line position in an interview aired Sunday, saying he won’t explicitly ask candidates about the issue.

"Roe v. Wade is probably the one that people are talking about in terms of having an effect, but we’ll see what happens. But it could very well end up with states at some point," Trump said on "Sunday Morning Futures" on Fox News.

Trump's rhetorical shift provided little solace to Democrats.

“He doesn't need to ask that question because those nominees on his list have already been screened by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation and other outside groups,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“This decision will shape the court for years to come, and it could lead to criminalizing reproductive rights as they were prior to Roe v. Wade,” he added. 

Leonard Leo, who has taken a leave from the Federalist Society to aid Trump in the Supreme Court confirmation process, sought to downplay the significance of Roe v. Wade in vetting a candidate. 

He told “Fox News Sunday” that a record of fairness and open-mindedness should be more important in vetting a judge than views on one case. Leo noted that lawmakers have worried that multiple other justices would overturn Roe v. Wade, but nothing came of it.

“I don’t think at the end of the day it’s about Roe v. Wade, it’s about having judges on the court who are going to interpret the Constitution the way it’s written,” he said. “And part of interpreting the Constitution is taking into account major precedents, and that’s going to happen.” 

Democrats hold 49 seats in the Senate, meaning they can do little on their own to hold up Trump’s nominee.

Collins is the first Republican to say there are some potential candidates on Trump's list whom she would not vote for. However, she has stressed that she will sit down with the eventual nominee and put an emphasis on the value of precedent.

"Some people on the list I can’t support because they have shown disrespect for vital principle of stare decisis,” Collins said on ABC, referencing the principle that once a case is decided, it is the lasting precedent.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKim, Moon toss ball to Trump in ‘last, best chance’ for Korean peace GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' Collins: Kavanaugh accuser should 'reconsider,' testify on Monday MORE (R-S.C.) noted on NBC's "Meet the Press" that it's unlikely a judge will declare outright that they would vote to overturn a prior case. He, too, said he will be focused on whether Trump's pick respects precedent.

"I would tell my pro-life friends you can be pro-life and conservative, but you can also believe in stare decisis," Graham said. "Roe v. Wade, in many different ways, has been affirmed over the years. But I would hope the justice that sits on the Court, all of them, would listen to the arguments on both sides before they decided. But stare decisis is a well-known concept in our law."