Senators Discuss Abortion Rights as Trump Mulls Supreme Court Pick
Abortion rights emerged as a major topic of discussion on Sunday among U.S. senators who will vote on President Donald Trump’s eventual Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring at the end of the month.
“My colleagues on both sides of the aisle [Democrats and Republicans] know that this could be one of the key votes of their entire career,” Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state said on NBC’s Meet the Press program. “If they vote for somebody who is going to change [legal] precedent, it could be a career-ending move.”
Abortion has been legal nationwide in America since a landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe versus Wade. Subsequent court decisions have reinforced the rights of women to terminate pregnancies.
As a candidate in 2016, Trump signaled a clear intention to pave the way for overturning Roe versus Wade by nominating socially conservative jurists likely to believe the high court erred in its 1973 decision.
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“That will happen, and that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life [anti-abortion] justices on the court,” Trump said at a presidential debate against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
But in an interview broadcast on Sunday, Trump told Fox News that he “probably” will not ask his nominee how he or she would vote on Roe versus Wade, adding that he is putting “conservative people on” the court.
Some senators who oppose abortion rights said, regardless of whom Trump nominates and how far rightward the ultimate ideological composition of the Supreme Court shifts, there are no guarantees about future decisions on abortion or any other divisive topic.
“I’m pro-life,” South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Meet the Press. “[But] you don’t overturn precedent unless there is a good reason. And I would tell my pro-life friends, you can be pro-life and conservative, but you can also believe in stare decisis [letting legal precedent stand]. Roe versus Wade, in many ways, has been affirmed over the years.”
Democrats won’t be able to block Trump’s nominee on their own, but could be joined by moderate Republicans who back abortion rights and oppose some of the names on Trump’s list of potential nominees.
“I’m not going to go into which ones those are, but there are people on that list whom I could not vote for,” Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said on ABC’s This Week program.
Senate Republicans are promising a confirmation vote before the November midterm elections.
“The Senate will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said. “The president’s nominee should be considered fairly.”
Last year, three Senate Democrats joined Republicans to confirm Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, a staunch judicial conservative. Trump could have even more high court vacancies to fill, as Kennedy is one of four justices over the age of 70.