Black women were among hundreds of protesters who rallied on Monday night and Tuesday morning outside the Supreme Court after President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh of Maryland to be an associate justice of the nation’s highest court.
Many Democrats and progressives fear that Trump’s pick, if confirmed by the Senate to fill retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy's seat, will shift the balance of power on the Court to the far-right. That could put in place an enduring conservative majority for decades to come, opponents say, potentially eroding women’s reproductive rights, including the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, civil rights, the Affordable Care Act and more.
“The stakes could not be higher,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) in a statement. “Our voting rights are on the line. Fair housing and affirmative action are on the line. The right to choose and access to healthcare are on the line. And our most highly valued democratic principles, such as equal justice and opportunity, are on the line.”
Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) stood with allies last night on the steps of the high court in Washington, D.C. In a statement to ESSENCE, she said this nomination could put women’s health, equality, dignity, and even lives on the line. “It will shift the balance of the Court, and could roll back rights for an entire generation.”
Calling Judge Kavanaugh “dangerous for women” the attorney noted that he has voted against women’s constitutional rights, “including approving the Trump Administration blocking a young immigrant woman from obtaining an abortion. “This appalling opinion was Kavanaugh’s audition for the Supreme Court. After showing his hostility to abortion, he was added to Trump’s shortlist.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, spoke to reporters during a joint telephone call along with the NAACP and National Action Network on Tuesday.
“We don’t need a Las Vegas-style court where the people [who come before the judge] know the odds are stacked against them.”
Who is Judge Kavanaugh and why are some Black leaders skeptical?
According to a White House bio, Kavanaugh has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 2006. Before becoming a judge, he served in the administration of President George W. Bush.
A graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, Kavanaugh has clerked on the Supreme Court and also worked with the Office of Independent Counsel under Ken Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton.
During Monday’s announcement at the White House, Trump said his pick is “universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time.”
But his critics say the nomination process has been tainted and rushed. Trump reportedly chose Kavanaugh from a list that was pre-approved by the Federalist Society, which some term a right-wing legal organization with hostility toward established civil rights precedents. Additionally, the president is under multiple federal investigations — any one of which could become the subject of an appeal before the Supreme Court.
“Indeed, Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination has the potential to influence the outcome of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of potential criminal activity by members of the President’s campaign,” said Ifill.
When Kavanaugh took the podium on Monday, the husband and father of two noted, among other things, that in the 1960s and '70s his mother “taught history at two largely African-American public high schools in Washington, D.C. — McKinley Tech and H.D. Woodson. Her example taught me the importance of equality for all Americans.”
He added that if confirmed, “I will keep an open mind in every case, and I will always strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American Rule of Law.”
While many Republicans in Congress have come out in support of the nominee, some Black leaders and women’s advocates are skeptical.
“Kavanaugh has a proven track record of making decisions based on his interpretation of the constitution as written — but during the drafting of our constitution in 1787, the rights of women and girls were not considered or protected in the language of its original form,” said Teresa C. Younger, President & CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women.
If Kavanaugh were to interpret the constitution as it stands, she said, “then we can expect that [he] will remain complicit in this nation’s continued attack on the civil rights of the girls and women who hang in the balance.”
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League said if President Trump's last Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is any indication, his latest nominee will do the civil rights community no favors.
“Judge Kavanaugh has a record of ruling against affordable healthcare and women's reproductive rights. Particularly troubling is his record on cases involving racial and workforce discrimination,” he said. “Seating a Supreme Court nominee with an obvious disdain for fundamental liberties will change American life as we know it.”
Rev. Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network (NAN) warned “some will pass this off as a middle of the road pick. Don’t be fooled.”
On every issue, he said, Kavanaugh has proven to be “an ideologue who will ignore our rights…This is a fight for the soul of our country.”
Kerene Tayloe, Policy Director at the environmental advocacy group `Green for All’ said Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh “is a continued effort to weaken important environmental protections that will directly impact communities of color.
Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, added that Kavanaugh’s legal positions could have wider implications. “Yes, we must ask where he stands on Roe v. Wade. But we must also ask where he stands on the 14th Amendment, Brown vs. Board of Education, voting rights, voter suppression and gerrymandering.”
U.S. Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tim Scott (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) are the only African-Americans in the Senate. Harris and Booker have noted they plan to oppose the nomination, while Scott is reportedly planning to meet the nominee before making a decision.
Harris said Kavanaugh “represents a direct and fundamental threat to that promise of equality.” “We must demand a mainstream jurist worthy of our great country,” she said.
The Congressional Black Caucus has not released its official position but in a statement noted an initial review of Kavanaugh's record indicated, “his jurisprudence will likely make the Supreme Court more conservative than it already is, and threaten policies and protections that allow African-Americans and other marginalized communities...”
CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) also called upon Senate Majority Leader McConnell to wait until after the November 2018 mid-term elections before allowing the Senate to consider this nominee as “he insisted on doing two years ago when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland...”
Judith Browne Dianis, a civil rights attorney who leads the Advancement Project, Tweeted recently that the Supreme Court may seem irrelevant to our daily lives “but that’s not right” she wrote, citing civil liberties such as the right to a trial and fair policing.
Adrianne Shropshire, Executive Director of BlackPAC which is pushing to elect Black candidates put it this way: The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is part of a broader attack by the Trump Administration and GOP aimed at eroding the fundamental protections of the U.S. Constitution.
“Our community is on the front line here and we need to fight back by insisting that our Senators hold the line right now and by turning out in November. … We need to make sure our voices are heard, from the streets, to the ballot box to the halls of Congress. This is not a moment for any one of us to sit on the sidelines.”