WASHINGTON–Nine months after his campaign was staggered by reports that he had incorrectly claimed to have served in Vietnam, Sen. Richard Blumenthal made what seemed to be a similar misstatement Tuesday, putting himself at the center of the action in the historic 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.
“I’m new to the Senate but I’m not new to this battle,” Blumenthal said at a Capitol Hill news conference, his first since taking office. “Since the days of Roe v. Wade, when I clerked for Justice Blackmun, as a state legislator, as attorney general, I have fought this battle.”
The problem is, Blumenthal clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in 1974, the year after Blackmun wrote the Roe v. Wade decision.
Blumenthal’s slip might not normally generate much attention or scrutiny. But it comes on the heels of an election that focused in part of revelations that Blumenthal made similar misstatements about his Vietnam-era military service.
Blumenthal served stateside as a reservist during the Vietnam War. But on at least two occasions, Blumenthal claimed to have been in Vietnam.
In 2008, for example, he told an audience in Norwalk, “we have learned something very important since the days that I served in Vietnam.” His opponent, Republican Linda McMahon, tried to use that mischaracterization to raise questions about Blumenthal’s trustworthiness.
His comments on Tuesday echoed the Vietnam line, in the sense that his phrasing seemed to put him in Blackmun’s chambers when the justice was crafting his landmark 1973 decision.
On other occasions, Blumenthal has correctly described his tenure for Blackmun. In an interview last summer with the Mirror, for example, he talked about discussing the Roe decision with Blackmun when he arrived for his clerkship.
A spokesman for Blumenthal, Ty Matsdorf, dismissed suggestions that his boss had pumped up his connection to the Roe v. Wade case.
“He didn’t misstate anything,” said Matsdorf. “This was a huge case that had ripple effects.”
He said that when Blumenthal clerked for Blackmun, there were follow-up petitions that the Supreme Court dealt with, along with broader fall-out from the case.
“It’s not like there was just in 1973 this decision that was issued and it stopped,” Matsdorf said. “This was a fundamental case that shifted U.S. law… It continued to ripple through the judicial system and the nation. We’re still feeling the effects of it today. For him to say ‘during the days’, he’s talking about all the follow-up legal action.”
Laurie Rubiner, Blumenthal’s chief of staff, echoed that argument and warned against writing such an “incendiary” story.
“This is a very unfair route you are going down,” she said. “We’ll remember this.”
In any case, the semantic slip is unlikely to dent his reputation with abortion-rights advocates, who see him as a champion of a women’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.