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Here’s What’s at Stake in the Fight Over Trump’s New Judges

The final days of the 2018 legislative session could impact reproductive rights for decades to come

Jeff Flake and Mitch McConnell

Jeff Flake and Mitch McConnell

J Scott Applewhite/AP/REX/Shutterstock, Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/REX/Shutterstock

With the number of days in the 115th session of Congress rapidly dwindling, GOP senators are turning on their turbojets, determined to confirm a slate of federal judges before the term ends and they are forced to start the process of nominating and holding hearings from scratch. The problem, for the GOP, is that the leftover nominees are among the president’s most controversial picks, and several members of the Republican party— like Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who wants a bill to protect Robert Mueller brought to the floor — have already threatened to defect if their demands are not met.

On Thursday, the judicial committee announced it was canceling some 20 votes scheduled for the day. (Flake, who sits on the committee, has the power to keep judges from advancing if he withholds his vote.) The news comes just one day after the nomination of Thomas Farr, a lawyer best known for defending voter suppression laws, barely advanced. Tim Scott, the GOP’s only black senator, went missing for almost an hour while deliberating, and once Scott committed, Vice President Mike Pence was required to break a tie. (Scott has left open the possibility of opposing Farr during the confirmation final vote.)

All of this is good news for groups organizing against Trump’s nominees, like Planned Parenthood, which announced on Wednesday it would formally oppose four of the judges Republicans are hoping to push through in the lame duck: Wendy Vitter, Michael Truncale, Matthew Kacsmaryk and Jonathan Kobes.

“For me, as a doctor, it’s about people’s lives. It’s about women’s lives. It’s about patients’ lives. And because these are lifetime appointments, this will affect generations to come,” Dr. Leana Wen, the new head of Planned Parenthood, tells Rolling Stone. “We are extremely concerned about the Trump-Pence administration attempting to remake an entire branch of government by filling these lifetime appointments with ideologically-driven people who will restrict reproductive health and women’s rights.”

Planned Parenthood is taking a war footing as the organization, itself, is under threat: at least two pending cases could result in its defunding, Wen says, while multiple pending cases challenging the Affordable Care Act could likewise impact the organization’s ability to provide services for its patients. That’s aside from the potential consequences it could face if Roe v. Wade comes under direct threat next year.

“Right now, there are 15 cases that are one step away from the Supreme Court, which means there is a real probability that, within the next year, Roe v. Wade could be overturned or further eroded.” If that happens, Wen warns, one in three women — a total of 25 million around the country — could soon be living in states where abortion is criminalized, banned or simply unavailable.

The organization is asking supporters to pressure their representatives in the Senate to oppose the nominations of  Vitter, Truncale, Kacsmaryk and Kobes on the grounds that all four represent a direct threat to the group.

Vitter, an outspoken pro-life activist who is married to the former Republican Sen. David Vitter, has protested against Planned Parenthood in Louisiana, saying that it’s responsible “killing over 150,000 females a year.” She refused, during her judiciary committee hearing, to say whether or not she believed Roe was correctly decided. There’s little doubt about Kacsmaryk’s views on Roe — he’s criticized the decision in writing. Trucale has said funding for Planned Parenthood should be “cut off.”

But the nominee that might pose the most immediate threat to the organization — and reproductive rights more broadly — is Jonathan Kobes. Kobes is being considered for a position on Eighth Circuit, the court that is set to hear one of 15 pending cases that experts think could end up putting Roe before a conservative Supreme Court within the next year. That case, Hopkins v. Jegley, is a challenge to four abortion restrictions passed in last year Arkansas. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled to take place on December 13th — the day before the Senate is expected to adjourn for the year.

If the nominees are not confirmed by that time, their nominations will expire, and the process — vetting, nomination, hearings, etc. — will all begin anew in January. Which means that even if Planned Parenthood wins this battle, it will only be a temporary victory.

Wen still believes it’s a fight worth having: “The data show unequivocally that these are individuals who oppose women’s health rights,” she says. “And there are are so many reasons for us to be opposing them, but we need to be talking about the impact on everyday people as a result of these individuals being appointed to these lifetime roles.”

In This Article: Donald Trump

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