As right-wing media insist that President Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh won’t threaten abortion rights if he’s confirmed, PBS NewsHour modeled how outlets should report on Kavanaugh and contextualize his anti-abortion stances.
After Kavanaugh met with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) -- regarded as a key vote for his confirmation -- Collins told reporters and released a statement that she was reassured about Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade because he told her he agreed with Chief Justice John Roberts’ statement that Roe was “settled law.”
Although some outlets quickly explained why Collins should certainly not be reassured by Kavanaugh’s comments on Roe, PBS NewsHour’s August 23 segment was a particularly good model for how outlets should report on Kavanaugh's “settled law” comments, as well as demonstrate how his confirmation will be a threat to abortion rights.
From the August 23 segment:
1. Debunk the inaccurate point that calling Roe “settled law” means abortion access is safe
During the segment, CNN Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic said that, with his comments about Roe being “settled law,” Kavanaugh is “trying out some lines” used by previous Supreme Court nominees. “When he meets with a senator,” Biskupic said, he “might experiment with what would be said. And we could see how Susan Collins received that quite positively.” Biskupic continued that it was possible Kavanaugh was “rehearsing his answers to try to satisfy senators enough to get the majority vote.” She warned that even if Kavanaugh talks about his “regard for precedent, … once he gets up there in a lifetime position, all bets are off.”
Besides emphasizing that Kavanaugh’s comments were not reflective of his likely jurisprudence, Biskupic further debunked his invocation of Roberts’ position on Roe. As Biskupic explained, although “Chief Justice John Roberts did talk about the importance of precedent and of Roe v. Wade being settled” there are actually “two rulings on abortion from Chief Justice John Roberts, one in 2007, and then more recently, where he did undercut the right.” During the segment, PBS NewsHour correspondent Lisa Desjardins also mentioned that Democratic senators said “Justice Gorsuch used the same standard, saying that he saw Roe as settled law. But Democrats like Chris Coons today point out that Justice Gorsuch recently voted to overturn a 41-year precedent, a court case from the Supreme Court in 1977, about labor law. That in that venue, it seems sort of as a Roe v. Wade of labor, Gorsuch did vote to overturn that. So Democrats are concerned that whether it’s settled law, these justices could be willing to overturn them.”
2. Provide context about Kavanaugh’s record on abortion rights
Kavanaugh is a threat to abortion access -- a fact Biskupic underscored in the PBS NewsHour segment by providing necessary context about his record on abortion rights and previous comments about Roe.
For example, in a 2017 case, the Trump administration stopped an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen (referred to as Jane Doe) in federal custody from having an abortion. The D.C. Court of Appeals eventually ruled that the government could not stop Doe from having an abortion. But Kavanaugh dissented in the case, arguing that the government should be able to block her decision to obtain abortion care while she’s in custody. In the segment, Biskupic explained that Kavanaugh’s dissent argued that “the government has an interest in fetal life here. … He said Roe is settled law. But he stressed that it wouldn’t have been a burden on this woman to have waited and gotten a sponsor, the government was right to try to make her wait and consider it.”
Similarly, Biskupic noted that we can tell a lot about Kavanaugh’s opinion on abortion rights from the way he has “talked about his judicial heroes. The first one when he was a young law student was former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. And he cited Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe v. Wade back in 1973. … And he’s done the same with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was also an opponent of abortion rights.”
The PBS NewsHour segment shows the kind of coverage needed about Kavanaugh, especially considering Collins has voted for every Supreme Court nominee since she’s been a senator, including Roberts, Gorsuch, and Samuel Alito.