U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro drew rounds of fierce applause Friday as she wagged her pink rectangular glasses at the people gathered inside a New Haven Planned Parenthood and warned that the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy poses a clear threat to women’s reproductive rights.
DeLauro’s visit to New Haven – in which she acted as part cheerleader and part prognosticator – came just two days after Kennedy announced his retirement, a move that gives President Donald Trump a pivotal new pick and the opportunity to choose a justice who will vote to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion.
And like some of her colleagues in Connecticut’s congressional delegation – who also came home Friday to sound the alarm – DeLauro did not hold back.
“This has to be raised to a decibel level that is deafening around the country,” DeLauro said. “We thought that they could never take it away but it gives you some sense of how fragile democracy is … we are fighting for the soul of this country and for democracy in the next several months.”
The prospect of a bruising battle over a Supreme Court nominee is sure to permeate many political campaigns this year, including some in Connecticut, where Democrats are using the prospect of another Trump-appointed justice as an issue that will help them organize and raise money.
“I hope every single candidate for election uses the fight over the Supreme Court as a central organizing principle,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., at a press conference in Hartford on Friday. “This is about the future of the country.”
Democrats say a new, conservative Supreme Court justice would swing the court to a 5-4 majority that could threaten more than just Roe v. Wade. The Affordable Care Act, including its coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, and contraceptive rights are also threatened, they said.
Murphy has vowed to block President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick. So has fellow Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
“As a candidate I will be raising money, I will be organizing volunteers around one of the most important jobs of a United States senator, which is to make sure that the Supreme Court reflects the values of the country,” Murphy said.
With the GOP holding the majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate as a whole, and the abolition last year of the use of the filibuster to block a Supreme Court nominee, it will be difficult for Connecticut’s senators to block the person Trump picks to fill Kennedy’s seat.
Murphy and DeLauro are up for re-election this year and likely to stump on the issue of the future of the Supreme Court. Blumenthal is not.
“As a non-candidate I’m going to be using this issue to sound the alarm, as a call for action, a five-alarm fire, a break-the-glass moment,” Blumenthal said at Friday’s press conference. “This kind of moment is going to be front-and-center in this election for sure.”
Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who, as a former Connecticut attorney general, argued cases before the Supreme Court, also said, “I know the importance of an open-minded, independent, fair jurist in the mold of Justice Kennedy. That’s all that any of us can ask of a judge.”
Both Murphy and Blumenthal have joined fellow senators in demanding a vote for Kennedy’s replacement be postponed until after November’s mid-term elections.
When President Barack Obama was nearing the end of his second term in office he nominated Merrick Garland to fill a vacancy on the court. Garland’s nomination was blocked by Republicans who argued it should wait until after the 2016 general election.
“I didn’t agree with (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell when he set this precedent back in 2016, but now that he’s set it, he should stick to it,” Murphy said. “If it was a good enough rule for President Obama it should be a good enough rule for President Trump.”
Blumenthal tweeted “we’re going to use every tool available and we will possibly be creative about some new ones” to block a confirmation of Trump’s candidate before the midterm elections.
Trump hopes to have a candidate to replace Kennedy confirmed in time to join the court for its new term in October, said White House legislative affairs director Marc Short on Friday.
“Our expectation again would be that we would nominate a candidate in the near future,” Short said.
The president said he would pick from 25 pro-life state and federal judges who are possible replacements for Kennedy.
The leading contender is Brett Kavanaugh, a former Kennedy clerk who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A Yale University graduate, Kavanaugh is also a graduate of Yale Law School.
Waiting until after the midterm elections to confirm a new Supreme Court pick may not help Democrats.
There are currently 51 Republicans in the Senate, and 51 votes are needed to confirm the president’s choice. But there’s no guarantee Democrats will pick up Senate seats in the midterm election, when the party has to defend many more seats than the GOP.
Kennedy, 81, joined the Supreme Court in 1988 and cast a number of decisive swing vote, including one to uphold the basic underpinnings of Roe v. Wade.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, abortion would revert fully to state legislatures, many of which have become more conservative and have passed more than 400 laws restricting access to abortion in the past six years.
Connecticut is one of eight states with law explicitly protecting abortion rights, should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
Murphy, however, said that despite Connecticut’s longstanding status as a blue state, it is not immune from an “ultra-conservative” high court.
He said if Roe. v. Wade were overturned, Congress might be encouraged to pass laws restricting states’ ability to offer a full suite of reproductive health care services.
“This fight over the future of women’s health care is not about what happens in Texas or Oklahoma or Montana, it’s about whether we can protect the right to choose here in Connecticut,” he said.
DeLauro, while acknowledging the uphill battle Democrats face in the coming fight, urged the crowd of women at Planned Parenthood on Friday not to lose hope while they lobby and make calls to members of Congress. Strategies to educate and engage young women, and organizing on college campuses is also important, DeLauro added.
Shelley Caldwell, a 72-year-old from Hamden, told DeLauro it’s not possible to resist all the attacks on women’s reproductive rights right now.
“I’ve been doing this forever, I remember when we couldn’t get birth control,” Caldwell said. “We’ve come huge distances with a lot of fighting, but right now we may have to look at other ways, like finding other funding.”
But DeLauro told her to continue to push back, and acknowledged “we had a bad week, we can attest to that, but it is not the end of the road.”