Planned Parenthood isn’t particularly known for its close relationship with the Republican Party, something I think most Republicans are comfortable with. After all, they currently control both houses of Congress and the White House in spite of a constant fusillade of hyperbolic attacks from America’s foremost industrial abortion supplier.
So, given that the next Supreme Court nominee will be picked without any real input or interference from the Democrats (hey, thanks, Harry Reid!), the last group that probably should be giving diktats on the matter is Planned Parenthood.
At a Thursday news conference, Dawn Laguens — the executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the new face of the organization after Cecile Richards left to spend more time with Mephistopheles — said that the president’s replacement for the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy needs to meet a “personal liberty standard” in order to be nominated.
If you’re not a watcher of Supreme Court nominations, let me note that there’s not actually a precedent for this standard. Planned Parenthood is just fabricating it, because why not? Surely the Trump administration will listen to a woman who, in an op-ed, openly admitted in February that “Planned Parenthood supporters and women across the country have been marching and organizing to resist Donald Trump’s vision for the world.”
“Clearly, saying ‘precedent’ alone can no longer be an acceptable answer or standard by which senators can accurately judge,” Laguens said at the news conference.
“That’s why today, Planned Parenthood and our colleagues at this press conference are calling for a higher standard. We are calling for a ‘personal liberty standard,’ that the Senate must only confirm a justice who affirmatively declares that they believe the Constitution protects individual liberty and the right of all people to make personal decisions about their bodies and their personal relationships, including the right to use contraception, the right to have an abortion, and the freedom to marry who you choose.”
Good luck with that, Ms. Laguens. Good luck with that.
The group also issued a news release about its “personal liberty standard,” which was equally untethered to any realistic assessment of the political realities in 2018.
According to the news release, “President Trump promised to appoint only biased justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade and strike down the Affordable Care Act. Trump has made it clear that the only justices he will put forward are nominees who would ‘automatically’ overturn Roe v. Wade, creating a world where abortion is illegal and health care is inaccessible.
“By demanding that all nominees affirm the personal liberty standard, the next Supreme Court justice will ensure that the right to safe, legal abortion is protected.
“During past Senate hearings, nominees have answered questions about Roe v. Wade by saying they will ‘respect precedent,’ but then went on to rule in ways that ignored precedent and would’ve eviscerated our fundamental rights had those justices been in the majority. With the balance of the court at stake, and with Trump making clear his ideological standard, simply referencing precedent or sidestepping questions on abortion and fundamental rights is no longer an option.”
So many things. First, obstructing whomever the president picks “is no longer an option” for the Democrats or their allies. We no longer have the filibuster on judicial nominees, which means that Judge Judy, if the Trump administration and the Republicans want her, is a shoo-in for the bench. (Please don’t take this as an actual suggestion, just an illustration of what the political realities of the moment are. I reiterate, please.)
As for Roe v. Wade, we don’t know whether justices will “respect precedent” because it hasn’t actually been challenged whole cloth with a state ban on abortions. The most recent precedent set by the court, the 5-3 decision on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, could indeed be overturned since it took place after Justice Scalia’s death and soon-to-be-former Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote. But that case only dealt with a law regarding the application of a state law involving admitting privileges for abortionists and surgical standards, not the right to an abortion.
That being said, Roe v. Wade is a terrible decision, one in a number of cases in which a liberal court used the Fourteenth Amendment as a utilitarian escape clause its framers never intended in order to essentially enact federally binding legislation from the bench. (If, for instance, the Fourteenth Amendment gave individuals a prima facie right to terminate a pregnancy, why did numerous state laws outlawing abortion exist at the time of its passage and for over a century afterwards?)
Nevertheless, there’s no indication conservative nominees won’t “respect precedent” if a challenge to Roe in toto appears before the Supreme Court, and even if it were overturned, this would merely return the decision to the states. (A federal law would be an impossibility at present, given that the filibuster still exists on pretty much everything that doesn’t involve budgetary reconciliation and/or a judicial nomination.)
As for the Affordable Care Act, let me first stop my eyes from rolling as if my extraocular muscles had suddenly become inoperative over the concept that a bill designed to force consumers to buy a product represents the apex of “personal liberty.” My vision being duly refocused, Planned Parenthood probably oughtn’t worry about this; King v. Burwell, the 2015 decision that upheld Obamacare as constitutional, was 6-3. Assuming Chief Justice John Roberts stands by his opinion and the court’s four liberals stay put for a while, the decision isn’t going anywhere.
Beyond all of that, I’m wondering why I’m actually dedicating this much thought to Ms. Laguens’ demands, given that her organization is in the same position to demand certain criteria of judicial nominees as I am, at least at the moment.
I have no doubt Planned Parenthood certainly can and will work to make that change. However, to quote the late film critic Roger Ebert in a different context, this is akin to “that mouse floating down the Chicago River on its back, signaling for the drawbridge to be raised.” Have fun with that bridge operator, Ms. Laguens, and thanks for the laughs.