No matter which woman President Trump nominates to the Supreme Court on Saturday, abortion is once again becoming a top national issue.
Already the Trump administration’s favored pick to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Amy Coney Barrett, has been scrutinized for her Catholic faith, her indication that a prominent case reaffirming the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision was wrongfully decided, and her membership in the ecumenical Christian group People of Praise. Trump’s other potential choices, Barbara Lagoa, Allison Jones Rushing, and Joan Larsen, have also faced a similar, although less intense, treatment.
Barrett, who was a popular favorite for the court before Trump nominated Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, has the strongest anti-abortion credentials of the four. When she was confirmed to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2017, her strong socially conservative leanings led California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to declare that “the dogma lives loudly within you.”
That so-called dogma was a reference to a 1998 article Barrett co-authored with John Garvey, now the president of Catholic University. She stated in it that Catholic judges should sometimes recuse themselves from death penalty cases because the practice conflicts with Catholic teaching.
Feinstein extrapolated that statement to express a fear that Barrett, a textualist who once clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia, would allow her faith to occlude her legal judgment if a challenge to Roe should arise.
Since Feinstein’s proclamation, partisans on both sides of the abortion issue have used the possibility of a Barrett nomination to bring abortion to the forefront of national debate. On Monday, Barrett received the endorsement of the Susan B. Anthony List, after the top anti-abortion group in the country’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, met with Trump to discuss his picks.
Dannenfelser, on Wednesday, said that no matter whom Trump picks, she can feel “the ground shaking underneath” the consensus on abortion. Dannenfelser previously said, “Who names the next justice wins,” in reference to control of the court.
This summer, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley announced, after an unfavorable Supreme Court decision on abortion, that he would not back a Supreme Court candidate who has not specifically said that Roe was “wrongly decided.” Hawley, a Yale Law graduate who landed on Trump’s updated list, called on other Republicans to join him in that pledge.
Since the death of Ginsburg, the Senate has become markedly more interested in the issue. Many Republicans, including Hawley, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have voiced varying amounts of support for Barrett. Republican senators more broadly have supported the prospect of definitively flipping the court.
Democratic senators, meanwhile, have bristled at the possible endangerment of Roe. Aside from protests against Trump and McConnell’s plans to complete the nomination and confirmation process before the election, senators have more broadly condemned possible attacks on abortion rights.
A group of Democratic senators on Wednesday, led by Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, released a report condemning conservative activist groups for steering courts in an anti-abortion direction since Trump took office.
“The wealthy special interests that fund the Republican Party have made sure that whomever President Trump nominates will be a reliable vote to roll back the access to health care Justice Ginsburg defended and the reproductive freedoms she fought for,” the report said. “Her legacy is at risk and with it the health and rights of millions of Americans for generations to come.”
Trump has reportedly narrowed his list to several candidates. The president met with Barrett on Monday. He plans to meet with Lagoa, widely considered the runner-up, on Friday.
Like Barrett, Lagoa has received wide exposure for her positions on abortion. The Florida judge, who was confirmed in 2019 by the Senate with bipartisan support, has a softer record on abortion, declaring during her confirmation hearing that Roe is “settled law” backed by “binding precedent of the Supreme Court.”
Rushing and Jones have received less attention, as people close to the president have indicated that the race is more clearly focused on Barrett and Lagoa.