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NH reaction to Trump pick for Supreme Court falls along party lines

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 11. 2018 1:29PM
With the U.S. Supreme Court building in the background, Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh arrives prior to meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2018. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Granite State politicians and activists had a flurry of responses following President Donald Trump’s prime time announcement that he was nominating Brett Kavanaugh to become the next U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Opinions divided down party lines as the two sides prepare for a close confirmation fight. The New Hampshire GOP praised the choice and called on Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen to “put aside political games” and vote to confirm Kavanaugh. The Democratic senators, in turn, expressed concern that the 53-year-old Kavanaugh would cast decisive votes to overturn previous Supreme Court cases on abortion, gay marriage, and the Affordable Care Act.

“Judge Kavanaugh must demonstrate his respect for precedent and his focus on defending the Constitution, independent of political influence or ideology,” Shaheen said in a statement, adding: “I will only support Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination if he protects the civil rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.”

Hassan also demanded that Kavanaugh “be clear about how he views legal precedent and straightforward in his answers about past cases involving women’s reproductive rights, health care, the environment, LGBTQ equality, and the civil rights of all Americans.”

With Republicans holding a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate — which could be even slimmer if Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is unable to participate due to his ongoing health issues — the President cannot afford any defections from his party.

And if Democrats are to block the nomination they would need to recruit one Republican and remain unanimously opposed, despite three of their members having voted for Trump’s previous Supreme Court nomination, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Given the odds, UNH School of Law professor John Greabe predicted that Kavanaugh would be confirmed to replace departing Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was the swing vote on many key issues during his tenure.

Kavanaugh, who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was on a short-list of potential justices put together by the conservative Federalist Society. Ovide Lamontagne, a partner at the Bernstein Shur law firm and member of the New Hampshire chapter of the Federalist Society, said he would have been cautiously optimistic about anyone on the short-list but noted Kavanaugh has one distinct advantage in the confirmation process.

“He’s very much a Washington-educated individual, so I’m really hard-pressed to see how his nomination doesn’t go forward,” Lamontagne said. “You’re either from Washington or you’re not, you either understand Washington or you don’t. He’s one of the insider, establishment-type folks.”

One of the most contentious issues during the confirmation process will likely be Kavanaugh’s opinion on the court’s precedent regarding abortion rights. Trump pledged during the 2016 campaign that his nominees would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Many pro-choice advocates fear that he, or any judge nominated by Trump and confirmed by a Republican Senate, will be the deciding vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade and 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions, which established that states cannot enact laws that put an “undue burden” on women’s ability to get an abortion.

“(Monday’s) Supreme Court nominee announcement means that abortion rights are threatened like never before,” Sabrina Dunlap, the vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood NH Action Fund, said in a statement. “Generations of people have grown up only knowing a country where they have the right to access safe, legal abortion. We cannot allow our children and grandchildren to have fewer rights than we do today, and we will never stop fighting to protect access to safe, legal abortion.”

Lamontagne, who previously served as general counsel for the pro-life Americans United for Life group, predicted that any change to precedent on abortion issues would come slowly, as states pass progressively more restrictive laws, and not in the form of a single case that wipes Roe v. Wade off the books.

“I do think it’s very likely that something will be teed up pretty quickly to bring the abortion issue back to the Supreme Court,” Greabe said.

Activists in some states have seen the latest Supreme Court opening as a reason to begin lobbying for state laws that reinforce current Supreme Court precedent.

Last June, months after the Senate confirmed Gorsuch, Delaware passed a law that would ensure its citizens the same abortion rights as Roe v. Wade, even if the case is overturned.

House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff of Penacook said he could foresee a similar effort in the Granite State if the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn the case.

“I could see the possibility of something then happening in New Hampshire as far as legislation to protect a woman’s right, for health reasons alone and in cases of rape and incest,” he said. “We’ll just have to see what happens with the nomination process.”

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