Progressive activists on Thursday gathered outside the Florida Supreme Court and called on Florida U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio to reject President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that the jurist would be detrimental to reproductive rights and health care in America.
“Make no mistake about it. The right to access abortion safely and legally in this country is absolutely on the line,” said Missy Wesolowski, statewide director of organizing for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.
Wesolowski said that Kavanaugh already has a track record of trying to limit access to abortion, citing his dissent from a decision last year on the D.C. Circuit of Court of Appeals that permitted an undocumented immigrant teenager to have an abortion.
Wesolowski also referenced Kavanaugh’s dissenting opinion in 2015 regarding the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit. In that opinion, Kavanaugh wrote that he believed employers have the right to deny health insurance coverage for their employees’ birth control supplies.
When he campaigned for the presidency, Trump was explicit in telling his conservative base that he would appoint only right- leaning justices who support overturning Roe v. Wade, though now he insists he never brought up the issue when vetting the candidates to succeed the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
“We know that the president will nominate pro-life justices,” Wesolowski said.
Thursday’s news conference featured others with concerns about Kavanaugh that they said should disqualify his candidacy for the high court, particularly his arguments for limiting restraint on presidential power and his opposition to consumer protections.
“He regularly sides with the powerful over the people,” said Progress Florida’s Ray Seaman on behalf of the Florida Why Courts Matter Coalition. He added that worker’s rights, women’s access to health care and voting rights were all “diminished” during the just-concluded session of the Supreme Court. Justice Kennedy’s replacement “must be a fair-minded constitutionalist who values equality and justice for all people, not just the wealthy and powerful,” he said.
The 53-year-old Washington D.C. judge first came to prominence two decades ago as one of the prosecutors who worked for Ken Starr in the investigation of President Bill Clinton.
While Florida liberals are denouncing Kavanaugh, many Republican leaders in Florida came out in support of the president’s choice, though they equivocated regarding whether Roe v. Wade would now be overturned, or even should be.
“I’m encouraged that Kavanaugh will be a constitutional conservative on the court,” Northwest Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said on a call organized by the Republican National Committee on Wednesday. “His decisions have reflected an opposition to the abortion on demand that we think will be a positive direction of the court.”
When pressed, Republican Party of Florida chairman Blaise Ingoglia said talk of Roe v. Wade being struck down was nothing more than “hyperbole,” though he didn’t deny that eliminating legal abortion has been a goal of many in the GOP for decades.
Gaetz suggested that Kavanaugh would likely support some of the bills passed in majority GOP-led state legislatures around the nation that aim to restrict a women’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy. He specifically mentioned a “heartbeat bill” that would prohibit doctors from performing abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Iowa’s Republican governor signed such a bill in May and it went into effect on July 1, setting up a legal fight that supporters have said could lead to a test of Roe v. Wade.
Ever the political animal, GOP Florida Chairman Ingoglia swerved from talking about the policy implications of Kavanaugh serving on the high court to the political, saying the nomination puts pressure on U.S. Sen Nelson, currently battling a serious challenge to reelection by Rick Scott.
The RPOF Chair cited a poll released this week by the Tarrance Group – commissioned by the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List –that shows 56 percent of Floridians believe that Nelson should vote to confirm Kavanaugh quickly.
Political analysts say that while Democrats can fight hard against Kavanaugh, the control remains with Republicans even if somehow he were to stumble and not be confirmed to succeed Kennedy. They say that Trump would then pick another justice taken from the list given to him from the conservative Federalist Society, and that they’ll ultimately have the votes in the Senate to confirm another judge considered to be pro-life.
Planned Parenthood’s Missy Wesolowski says her group will deal with that spectre later – but their first priority is to block Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court.
“If this fight is successful, the next fight will be trying to convince the president to actually find a fair-minded judge and not go off this predetermined list that he made before the election,” she said.