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Dems prepare for Senate battles over Supreme Court, abortion rights

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) speaks to NewsChannel8 from Capitol Hill on Jan. 25, 2017. (SBG)

With just over a week until President Trump announces his first nominee for the Supreme Court, Democrats worry he will choose a judge far outside the mainstream but they have few options to do anything about it.

After Senate Republicans refused for nearly a year to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee to fill the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia, Trump is now positioned to replace one of the court’s most conservative voices with another like him.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said Wednesday that Democrats in the Senate will have the opportunity to advise and consent on the nomination once the announcement is made. Trump tweeted that he will reveal the nominee next Thursday.

“I am concerned about what sort of justice might be selected by President Trump,” Kildee said.

He is particularly worried about Trump nominating someone who will support overturning the Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed women’s right to choose whether to have an abortion.

“It’s been the law here in the United States for almost half a century,” he said of the ruling, the 40th anniversary of which was Sunday.

He suggested those who disagree with a woman’s decision to have an abortion should still respect it, as the courts have since 1977.

“I think that should continue to be the law of the land,” Kildee said. “The next Supreme Court justice could determine if that continues to be the case.”

The prospect of a confirmation battle centered on abortion rights comes amid several actions by the Trump White House and the Republican Congress to curtail funding and access for organizations that perform or support abortions.

“In the House of Representatives, they can pass just about anything they want to pass,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

He believes some moderate Republicans in the Senate could side with Democrats over more extreme anti-abortion measures that would easily be approved in the House.

“My view is that they’re going to have a very tough time getting something through the Senate that undermines a woman’s right to choose,” he said.

Whether those Senate Republicans would be willing to defy Trump on an anti-abortion Supreme Court nominee is a different matter, though.

Democrats are not entirely unarmed in the Supreme Court battle. The slim Republican majority in the Senate means Trump will need at least eight Democrats on his side to overcome a potential filibuster.

Trump met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday to discuss the vacancy.

"I believe the president should pick a mainstream nominee who could earn bipartisan support for the vacant Supreme Court seat," Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement afterward.

"What we hope would be that our Democratic friends will treat President Trump's nominees in the same way that we treated Clinton and Obama," McConnell, R-Ky., said. Democrats have pounced on that suggestion, given his unprecedented refusal to even hold hearings for 11 months for Judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia.

McConnell insisted this situation is different because it is the start of a new presidency and Trump’s nominee should receive the courtesy shown to Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor earlier in Obama’s presidency.

To stymie Trump, Democrats would need to maintain a filibuster through 2020, a position that may be untenable, particularly with nearly a dozen of them facing tough reelection fights in 2018 in states that Trump won.

Three federal appeals judges have emerged as contenders believed to be on Trump’s shortlist: Neil Gorsuch of Colorado, William Pryor of Alabama and Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania.

Gorsuch is known to be an originalist who supports taking the Constitution and statutes literally, and his past decisions have defended religious liberties of Christians. He was confirmed to his current seat on the bench without controversy.

Pryor’s nomination to the appeals court was highly controversial, though, and he has called Roe v. Wade “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” He has also faced criticism from the right over a ruling on transgender rights, but Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions is reportedly lobbying for him.

Hardiman has a conservative judicial record defending gun rights and law enforcement. He currently serves on the same court of appeals as Trump’s sister.

Whoever Trump chooses will likely face contentious confirmation hearings, but they would not change the ideological balance of the court. Future Trump picks will spur a larger battle if he has the opportunity to replace one of the Supreme Court’s aging liberals with a younger conservative.

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