Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that he still wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned — but wouldn’t say whether Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would be the guy to make it happen.
When asked in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash about wanting to overturn Roe, Pence responded, “Well, I do.”
“But,” he continued, “I haven’t been nominated to the Supreme Court.”
Kavanaugh’s nomination has made Roe v. Wade one of the potential battles of the judge’s confirmation hearings. Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court could deliver a 5-4 majority to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that protects abortion rights.
Pence, however, dodged the question as to whether Kavanaugh would fulfill his and the president’s campaign promise to reverse that decision.
“Well, as I said, I stand for the sanctity of life,” Pence said. “This administration, this president are pro-life, what the American people ought to know is, as the president said today, this is not an issue that he discussed with Judge Kavanaugh, I didn’t discuss it with him either.”
Pence’s obfuscation appears to be part of a larger strategy to downplay how Kavanaugh could tip the balance of the Court to undermine Roe and the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which affirmed Roe — while also sending a wink to the administration’s evangelical base.
At least Pence is honest that he wants to see Roe overturned
This is a strategy — “we’re just picking a guy who’ll follow the Constitution, we’re not even talking about the one case we always talk about” — that is likely to be followed throughout Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. His ascension to the Supreme Court could hinge on the votes of two Republican senators, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who are both supportive of abortion rights. (Though, so far, Collins and Murkowski haven’t given Democrats much hope that they’ll defect.) And beyond the halls of the Senate, about two-thirds of Americans say they don’t want to see Roe overturned.
Pence, of course, has remained consistently anti-abortion, so his confession that he still wants to overturn Roe isn’t a surprise. As for Trump, he’s said in the past that he’s pro-life, though he’s painted himself as anti-abortion as a candidate and as president.
Trump did say he wouldn’t discuss Roe during the vetting process, though Kavanaugh was selected from a list of preeminent conservative judges. The president reiterated this during his Supreme Court announcement Monday. “I do not ask about a nominee’s personal opinions,” Trump said. “What matters is not a judge’s political views but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and the constitution require.”
But as Vox’s Dylan Matthews has written, Kavanaugh’s presence on the Court definitely puts Roe at risk:
Kavanaugh will pretend this isn’t the case. Some conservatives — either to own the libs and prove that Kavanaugh isn’t a threat to women or to express concern about the choice — have cited his statement in his 2006 confirmation hearing that, “if confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, I would follow Roe v. Wade faithfully and fully.”
Matthews points out that this is a clear dodge: As a DC Circuit judge, he has to honor the precedent of the Supreme Court. On SCOTUS, not so much.
The Supreme Court, by contrast, can overturn its own precedents. It’s usually hesitant to do so, but just this term it threw out three decades-old rulings: 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 1967’s National Bellas Hess v. Illinois, and 1992’s Quill Corp. v. North Dakota. There’s nothing stopping Roe and Casey (and, more recently, 2016’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt) from joining them, and Kavanaugh’s statements about his role on the DC Circuit tell us absolutely nothing about how he’d vote as a Supreme Court justice.
As Matthews points out, there’s plenty of evidence that hints at Kavanaugh’s opinions on the matter — from interviews to court decisions. It’s impossible to know exactly what decisions Kavanaugh will take part in if he becomes the next Supreme Court justice — but Pence may be closer than ever to his wish.